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.