Five talking points ahead of the second legs of the African Champions League quarterfinals

Special Five talking points ahead of the second legs of the African Champions League quarterfinals
Al-Ahly players go through their paces ahead of the second leg with Raja Casablanca. (@AlAhlyEnglish)
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Updated 21 April 2022

Five talking points ahead of the second legs of the African Champions League quarterfinals

Five talking points ahead of the second legs of the African Champions League quarterfinals
  • Reigning champions Al-Ahly take a narrow lead to Morocco for showdown with Raja Casablanca, while Wydad Casablanca look set for semifinals after first leg heroics

It is halftime in the quarterfinals of the African Champions League, with all four ties in the balance. Arab News looks back at the first legs and ahead to the second. Here are five talking points.

1. Al-Ahly may rue their missed chances

Al-Ahly may have defeated Raja Casablanca 2-1 at home in the first leg, but must have left the stadium feeling dissatisfied, because this tie should already be over. The Egyptians had chance after chance, with a massive 25 goal attempts — which included a saved penalty — compared to six from the visitors who were reduced to 10 men on the hour. It means that one goal in Morocco could change everything.

“The second leg will be very difficult for us, and we should have decided the tie in our stadium, but unfortunately that did not happen,” head coach Pitso Mosimane said.

The South African has been criticized in Egypt for the narrowness of the victory and it could be said that by leading the team to the last two continental titles that the media and fans have become a little spoiled. In the last two quarterfinal appearances, the Red Giants won their first legs by two goals. This time the cushion is not quite as comfortable. It could be a nervous evening in Stade Mohammed V but one thing is for sure: Al-Ahly have plenty of experience in these situations.

2. Wydad Casablanca looking set for the semis

Wydad Casablanca produced an epic performance in their first leg, winning 1-0 at the home of CR Belouizdad despite playing with 10 men for over 80 minutes after veteran midfielder Jalal Daoudi was shown an early red.

The depleted Moroccans caught the eight-time Algerian champions cold early in the second half with a fine header from Guy Mbenza.

As expected, the Algiers side produced wave after wave of attacks and ended the game with 23 goal attempts but no goals. In fact, none of those were really clear opportunities as the hosts were reduced to long shots or to launching crosses into the area. It was not too difficult for Wydad in the end.

Given the circumstances of the win, of all the four quarterfinal ties, Wydad, with the second of their two titles coming in 2017, are the best placed to progress to the last four. If Belouizdad struggle against ten men on home soil, the odds of them getting the goals they need in Morocco are not promising.

3. Setif flying flag for Algeria

If the situation is looking bleak for Belouizdad then it is slightly better for fellow Algerians ES Setif who drew 0-0 at home to Esperance de Tunis. As goalless draws go, this was an entertaining affair with both teams going close on numerous occasions. The closest either came was from a spectacular long-range free-kick from Fousseny Coulibaly that hit the underside of the crossbar. Given the action in the first leg, it is hard to imagine the second leg ending goalless.

The Tunisian giants are the favorites as they are at home and are usually defensively solid, with just two goals conceded in the group stage. There is hope for Setif, two-time winners, however, as Esperance looked vulnerable from set pieces and there are sure to be chances in the return match. Away goals, still in place in Africa despite being jettisoned in Europe, could play a crucial part.

4. Raja Casablanca have a fighting chance

The Moroccans have been champions of Africa an impressive three times but the last of those wins came back in 1999. It is time to end that drought, and to do so, they need to improve on their first leg performance.

Coach Rachid Taoussi complained of the decisions that went against his men in a game that saw two penalties given to Al-Ahly and a red card to one of his own players. The spot kicks seemed fair, especially the second one which was given after Marouane Hadhoudi stopped a goal-bound shot with his hand with the goalkeeper beaten, hence the resulting dismissal.

It suits the Green Eagles to put the blame for the defeat on the shoulders of the referee and/or VAR, with their official complaint over what they said were “several unfair, ungrounded decisions.”

It may be a clever thing to do as it overshadows the fact the visitors were second best even before the sending off. Casablanca were relieved to go home with just a one goal deficit but will have to improve against the ten-time winners to go to the last four.

5. Non-Arab tie also finely poised

Petro de Luanda defeated Mamelodi Sundowns 2-1 to stay on course to become the first Angolan team to become champions of Africa, and the first team from anywhere to beat the Sundowns in the tournament this year. The South Africans, champions in 2016, will be confident of overcoming the deficit on their home turf of Johannesburg. It should be an entertaining clash.

The winner of this tie will take on either Wydad Casablanca or Belouizdad. The other semifinal will feature the victors of the Al-Ahly and Raja Casablanca clash, and the team that emerges from the game between Setif and Esperance de Tunis.


New-look Barcelona held 0-0 by Rayo in Lewandowski’s debut

New-look Barcelona held 0-0 by Rayo in Lewandowski’s debut
Updated 10 sec ago

New-look Barcelona held 0-0 by Rayo in Lewandowski’s debut

New-look Barcelona held 0-0 by Rayo in Lewandowski’s debut
  • The biggest applause Lewandowski heard from the crowd was to show their appreciation for his hustle on defense late in the match with Barcelona stymied in attack

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona mortgaged its financial future to give Xavi Hernández the talent he wanted.
But Rayo Vallecano showed Xavi he still has work to do to forge a winning team after his new-look Barcelona was held to a 0-0 draw on Saturday in their Spanish league opener.
The modest club from Madrid frustrated Robert Lewandowski and his fellow Barcelona newcomers by defending well and producing the most dangerous scoring threats. As the minutes ticked by, the energy drained from the 81,000-strong Camp Nou crowd that had turned out to cheer the team that was only made possible by the constroversial decision by club president Joan Laporta to sell off television rights and other assets in exchange for some much needed cash.
The biggest applause Lewandowski heard from the crowd was to show their appreciation for his hustle on defense late in the match with Barcelona stymied in attack. The closest the former Bayern Munich star went to scoring was a header flicked well over the bar in the first half.
Fittingly, given its poor finish to the match, Barcelona ended with 10 men after Sergio Busquets got a second booking in stoppage time when he swung his arm into the face of Rayo substitute Radamel Falcao. Busquets’ explusion will rule him out of Barcelona’s visit to Real Sociedad. Falcao then had what looked to be a winner waived away for offside as Rayo went close to claiming a third straight win over Barcelona after it stunned the Catalan club twice last season.
“It is too bad because we wanted to show our fans that we are on the right path,” Xavi said. “We had generated a lot of expectations, but this is just the beginning. Today is disappointing for every Barcelona supporter, but we have to keep our faith in this way of playing as being the right one to win titles.”
Lewandowski, winger Raphinha and defender Andreas Christensen, who also joined Barcelona this summer, all made Xavi’s starting 11. The three players along with fellow newcomer Franck Kessié and the recently re-signed Ousmane Dembélé and Sergi Roberto were only declared eligible to play by the Spanish league on Friday after Barcelona sold yet another stake in its in-house production company to improve its troubled financial balance.
The delicate state of Barcelona’s finances meant that it was unable to register Jules Koundé, its top defensive signing, in time for the season opener.
Xavi had said the demands placed on him and his team were higher this season because of the effort the club had made to give him a lot more talent after Barcelona won nothing last campaign following the exit of Lionel Messi.
But Xavi still has a way to go to create a team as well-honed as Andoni Iraola’s Rayo, which for a third meeting in a row held Barcelona without a goal. Iraola’s team, led by midfielders midfielders Isi Palazón and Óscar Trejo, erased all the passing lanes for Lewandowski. Barcelona was unable to find the answer through Raphinha and Dembélé, who both wasted the one good chance they each got.
Barcelona’s best chance came from late substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose goal-bound shot was saved by defender Alejandro Catena in the 85th.
Previously, Barcelona had needed goalie Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to keep the game scoreless.
Ter Stegen closed out quickly to block Álvaro García’s point-blank shot after the forward had streaked away down the left flank and cut back past the sliding Ronald Araújo just before halftime.
Barcelona had another scare early in the second half when Sergio Camello pounced on a ball lost by Araújo. Again Ter Stegen came to the rescue, forcing Camello into taking a shot from a narrow angle that trickled just past the far post.
“My team played tense and with nerves. I had tried to tell them that the pressure was on me,” Xavi said. “But Rayo played well and closed off our passing game. They executed their game plan.”
Iraola, a former Athletic Bilbao player who has impressed as a coach, said his team played well enough to claim another victory at Camp Nou.
“I think we played a great match. I am not satisfied because we wanted a win. It is too bad we couldn’t take the three points,” he said. “Maybe they had more chances, but we had three or four clear opportunities. I am happy for the effort of my team and for having neutralized a great rival.”


Neymar nets 2 as PSG beats Montpellier 5-2 in French league

Neymar nets 2 as PSG beats Montpellier 5-2 in French league
Updated 52 min 18 sec ago

Neymar nets 2 as PSG beats Montpellier 5-2 in French league

Neymar nets 2 as PSG beats Montpellier 5-2 in French league
  • Neymar scored twice to take his tally to three goals in two league games for the defending champion on a night when Lionel Messi was held scoreless

PARIS: Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain’s high-powered attack put on another impressive display in a 5-2 win over Montpellier in the French league on Saturday as Kylian Mbappe opened his account but missed a penalty in his return from a groin injury.
Neymar scored twice to take his tally to three goals in two league games for the defending champion on a night when Lionel Messi was held scoreless. The Brazil striker was also PSG’s best player in preseason friendlies as he looks to find his peak form for the World Cup in Qatar, which starts in November.
PSG also netted five goals in its league opener and Montpellier opted for a low defensive block to deny space for the hosts. But the pressure was too much for center back Falaye Sacko, who diverted Mbappe’s off-target shot into his own net in the 39th minute.
Sacko then handled the ball in the 42nd when Lionel Messi juggled the ball on a dribbling run. Neymar wrongfooted Jonas Omlin to convert the subsequent penalty for a 2-0 lead.
PSG capitalized on another blunder to add a third goal in the 51st. Mbappe blocked Omlin’s pass and found Achraf Hakimi, whose deflected cross was headed home by Neymar.
Far from his best level, Mbappe still found the net with a flick from a corner in the 69th.
“(Mbappe) is a competitor, he wants to be good, and he wants to be good quickly,” PSG coach Christophe Galtier told Canal Plus. “He needs a bit of time to be 100 percent fit. He will make even more difference when he will be 100 percent fit.”
In his PSG debut, Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches rounded off the scoring with a first-time effort in the 88th.
Omlin pulled off some outstanding saves to frustrate PSG for more than 30 minutes. The Swiss goalkeeper saved a penalty from Mbappe in the 23rd after Jordan Ferri had handled the ball. He then turned around the post a curling free kick from Messi in the 26th.
Montpellier scored with a close-range effort from Wahbi Khazri in the 58th and a half-volley from Enzo Tchato in stoppage time.
Earlier, Rennes’ defensive issues were exposed as it squandered the lead to draw 1-1 with 10-man Monaco.
In a clash between two contenders for European spots, Monaco forward Breel Embolo pounced on a heavy touch from goalkeeper Dogan Alemdar to equalize with a sliding effort in the 73rd.
Rennes striker Gaetan Laborde opened the scoring by converting a rebound in the 59th.
Monaco was down to 10 men in the 15th when midfielder Youssouf Fofana was red-carded for a stamp on Martin Terrier’s ankle.
“We are extremely disappointed,” Laborde said. “When you play with 11 men against 10 almost the entire game, you must come away with three points. It was tense in the dressing room.”
Despite its numerical superiority, Rennes looked shaky at the back. Embolo proved a magnet for fouls and Joe Rodon and Arthur Theate were booked for holding the forward in the 21st and the 23rd, respectively.
Steve Mandanda also received a yellow card in the 31st for catching Embolo in the face while attempting to punch the ball away. The Rennes goalkeeper made amends by stopping the subsequent penalty taken by Axel Disasi before denying Krepin Diatta in the 36th.
However, Mandanda picked up a knock and was replaced by Alemdar at halftime.
Monaco goalkeeper Alexander Nubel helped salvage a point by turning Baptiste Santamaria’s long-range strike around the post in the 27th and parrying a close-range header from Terrier in the 28th.


Lukaku nets seconds into Inter return at Lecce

Lukaku nets seconds into Inter return at Lecce
Updated 13 August 2022

Lukaku nets seconds into Inter return at Lecce

Lukaku nets seconds into Inter return at Lecce
  • Belgium forward Lukaku nodded home from close range with just 81 seconds gone to give Inter the lead
  • The 29-year-old had the easiest task to open his account for the campaign

LECCE, Italy: Romelu Lukaku made a dream start to his return to Inter Milan on Saturday after scoring less than two minutes into the Serie A club’s season opener at Lecce.
Belgium forward Lukaku nodded home from close range with just 81 seconds gone to give Inter the lead at the Stadio Via del mare as they begin their bid to reclaim the Scudetto from local rivals AC Milan, 4-2 winners over Udinese earlier on Saturday.
The 29-year-old had the easiest task to open his account for the campaign after Matteo Darmian knocked Federico Dimarco’s cross straight into his path.
Lukaku reportedly took a pay cut to 8.5 million euros for the coming campaign to get out of Chelsea.
He performed poorly in England and enraged Chelsea fans by saying in an interview with Sky Sport Italia that he wanted to return to Inter, where he won the Serie A title in 2021 and scored 64 times in 95 games over two years.
That move came sooner than expected, with Inter paying an initial eight million euros plus a potential three million in bonuses for the loan.
Italian media report that Inter and Chelsea have a gentleman’s agreement that the loan could be extended for another season should the move work out.
After the deal was done his lawyer Sebastien Ledure said that “anything can happen” between now and the end of next season.


’Emotional’ Werner scores for Leipzig on Bundesliga return

’Emotional’ Werner scores for Leipzig on Bundesliga return
Updated 13 August 2022

’Emotional’ Werner scores for Leipzig on Bundesliga return

’Emotional’ Werner scores for Leipzig on Bundesliga return
  • Leipzig played the majority of the game with 10 men
  • Leipzig's record goal-scorer Timo Werner put his side ahead in the 36th minute

BERLIN: Former Chelsea striker Timo Werner found the back of the net on an emotional return to Leipzig, but it was not enough to secure their first win of the season as Cologne snatched a 2-2 draw on Saturday.
Leipzig played the majority of the game with 10 men, after Hungary midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai received a straight red card for an elbow to the throat of Cologne’s Florian Kainz just before half time.
Werner left Leipzig for London in 2020 before returning earlier this week in a £25 million ($30.2 million, 29.5 million euros) deal.
Leipzig’s record goal-scorer put his side ahead in the 36th minute, when goalkeeper Marvin Schwaebe let Werner’s long-distance strike dip under his body and trickle across the line.
Cologne equalized just four minutes later however, when striker Florian Dietz dinked in from close range to chalk up his first ever Bundesliga goal.
French forward Christopher Nkunku gave the home side the lead in the 56th minute, but Cologne were able to equalize with 20 minutes to go through a clumsy own goal from Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol.
After the game, Werner — who was subbed off to warm applause in the 68th minute — said he was “very emotional” to return.
“It was something special for me, to return after two years.”
“Leipzig is always a part of me. I grew up here and I got my first Germany call up here.”
The 26-year-old, however, was less enamoured of the result which means Leipzig have drawn their opening two matches.
“When you see how we’ve lost points this season, it’s really bitter.
“Considering we were playing with a man down for so long, 2-2 is acceptable, but for our aims (this season), it’s far from satisfactory,” he said.
In Saturday’s late game, Schalke secured a last-minute 2-2 draw with Borussia Moenchengladbach when Marius Buelter converted a penalty in injury time.
Schalke opened the scoring in the 29th minute thanks to a stunning solo goal from Rodrigo Zalazar, who dribbled the ball from halfway before scoring via a long-range strike from the edge of the penalty box.
Jonas Hofmann — fresh off a midweek contract extension — skidded the ball over the line in the 27th minute, before France’s Marcus Thuram put Gladbach in front just six minutes later.
Gladbach winger Patrick Herrmann was adjudged to have handballed in the penalty area in injury time, giving Buelter the chance to convert from the spot.
Schalke striker Simon Terodde summed up his side’s emotional full-time celebrations.
“The people here — they’ve missed us,” he said.
“It’s beautiful that we could give them a point in the 93rd minute.”
Werder Bremen snatched a late point at home against Stuttgart through a 95th minute goal from Scottish winger Oliver Burke.
Bremen’s two-pronged attack of Niclas Fuellkrug and Marvin Ducksch again combined, putting the home side in the fourth minute.
Stuttgart equalized in the 38th minute through Wataru Endo and took the lead with just over ten to play through Silas Katompa Mvumpa, before Burke won a point for Bremen late.
Augsburg won 2-1 away at Bayer Leverkusen thanks to an 82nd minute goal from Andre Hahn, deepening the winless Leverkusen’s woes after their early German Cup exit.
In the German capital, under pressure Hertha Berlin drew 1-1 with Eintracht Frankfurt. Frankfurt had a late penalty overturned on VAR and Hertha held on to pick up their first point of the season.
In Sinsheim, Hoffenheim came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against an impressive Bochum, thanks to goals from former Liverpool defender Ozan Kabak, Christoph Baumgartner and an 88th minute header from Munas Dabbur.
On Friday, Dortmund scored three goals in the last 15 minutes away at Freiburg to win 3-1.
On Sunday, Wolfsburg travel to Bayern Munich while Mainz are at home to Union Berlin.


Gabriel Jesus scores 2 in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester

Gabriel Jesus scores 2 in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester
Updated 13 August 2022

Gabriel Jesus scores 2 in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester

Gabriel Jesus scores 2 in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Leicester
  • The Brazil striker marked his home debut for Arsenal with two goals and two assists
  • “He was really disappointed in the dressing room, because he said he could have scored four,” said Mikel Arteta

LONDON: Gabriel Jesus didn’t take long to make an impression at Emirates Stadium.
The Brazil striker marked his home debut for Arsenal with two goals and two assists in a 4-2 win against Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday.
But apparently it wasn’t enough for Jesus himself.
“He was really disappointed in the dressing room, because he said he could have scored four,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “I wouldn’t like to play against him as a defender. He’s so mobile, so intuitive, always sharp.”
The 25-year-old Jesus, who joined from Manchester City as Arsenal’s marquee summer signing so far, opened his account for the Gunners in the 23rd minute with a brilliant, curling finish. He got his second in the 35th from a header and had several chances to finish the game with a hat trick.
The two times Leicester found a foothold in the match, Arsenal struck back right away.
The visitors made it 2-1 from an own goal by William Saliba in the 53rd, but Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka restored the home side’s two-goal cushion two minutes later. Xhaka scored after Jesus poked a loose ball into his path when Leicester goalkeeper Danny Ward failed to hold on to a routine cross into the box and collided with defender Wesley Fofana.
Leicester attacking midfielder James Maddison made it 3-2 in the 74th when he sent a low shot through the legs of Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
A nervous murmur went through the crowd, but the Arsenal team didn’t panic as they did in similar situations in recent seasons. Jesus drove forward just a minute later and squared the ball to forward Gabriel Martinelli, who fired a left-footed shot from just outside the area to beat Ward at the back post to make it 4-2.
“It was a bit of a mixed bag for us today,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said. “There were good moments. But in key moments of the game, we made mistakes.”
Leicester also had a penalty decision overturned just before halftime after the referee first pointed to the spot and then was asked to review a coming together of Ramsdale and Leicester forward Jamie Vardy in the box.
On a hot day when the mercury hit around 33 C (91 F), six goals and the pace of the game took a lot out of the players and water breaks were needed in each half. The result means that Arsenal have won both of their opening league games, with Leicester drawing their first match.
Jesus was the focus of Arsenal’s attack throughout the game, with teammates trying to get him the ball at every opportunity. For his first goal, he took one touch after receiving a pass from Xhaka, set himself and then bent a shot that took a slight deflection to sail in past Ward.
Jesus got a bit of help for his second from Vardy. The Leicester forward flicked the ball backward across the face of goal from a corner, and Jesus headed into an empty net at the back post.
The striker nearly scored a hat trick before halftime when he dominated Leicester defender Jonny Evans with his back to goal, spun around him into the box and fired a low shot saved by Ward. He had multiple chances in the second half as well.
The challenge for Arsenal when it comes to Jesus will be keeping him fit throughout the course of the season since he wasn’t used to playing in every match during his time at Manchester City.
“We have to manage that load,” Arteta said. “We have to be on top of that.”
But the manager said Jesus has already lifted the standards among the team in training and with the way he connects with his teammates.
Jesus says he’s enjoying being Arsenal’s No. 9, but he doesn’t harbor any bad feelings against his former club.
“I was not unhappy at City,” he said. “I just want to play. I understand the club, I understand the manager. But you know sometimes players want to play. And I’m the same. And here I come and I train every day.”
Unlike Arsenal, Leicester have been very quiet in the transfer market and will look to hold onto key players like Fofana and Maddison, who are attracting interest from other clubs. The team only announced their first signing of the transfer window on the eve of Saturday’s match. Alex Smithies, a 32-year-old backup goalkeeper who most recently played for Cardiff, signed with the Foxes on a two-year deal.
Rodgers hopes the transfer rumors involving some of his players doesn’t infect the team as a whole.
“I think it’s difficult for the young players,” he said. “But you could see the spirit in the team today. The players kept going right until the end.”