Thursday 26 November 2020, 08:10

African crown up for grabs as Cairo titans clash

  • Cairo International Stadium to host ‘Final of the Century’

  • Al Ahly seeking a ninth continental crown while Zamalek targeting their sixth

  • We compare the two behemoths ahead of Friday’s grand finale

This Friday at 21.00 local time, football fans across Africa and the Arab world will be giving their undivided attention to the ‘Final of the Century’ at Cairo International Stadium. There, two giants of Egyptian and African football, Al Ahly and Zamalek, will go head to head in the deciding game of the 2019-20 CAF Champions League.

Al Ahly–Zamalek

Friday 27 November, Cairo International Stadium, 21.00 (local time)

Al Ahly have eight African Cup of Champions/CAF Champions League titles to their name but last won the competition in 2013 at the expense of South Africa’s Orlando Pirates. For their part, Zamalek have won the tournament five times and will be looking to finally claim their sixth, having failed to win it since 2002, when they beat Morocco's Raja Casablanca.

Both sides are playing some of their best football and most observers agree that there is very little to separate them in attack or defence. Despite both teams having to deal with notable absences, the showdown has been dubbed the 'Final of the Century' as it is the first time that two teams from the same country, let alone from a city that lives and breathes football like Cairo, have contested the decider.

Players to watch

Achraf Bencharki Bencharki knows what it is like to win the African Champions League, having triumphed with Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca at the expense of tomorrow’s opponents Al Ahly in 2017. Now in the colours of Zamalek, the Moroccan is expected to be one of coach Jaime Pacheco's most important offensive weapons. Since joining the White Knights last year, the 26-year-old has helped them win the Egypt Cup, netting a brace against Pyramids in the final, followed by the CAF Super Cup at the expense Tunisia’s Esperance, when he also found the target twice. He was on the scoresheet against Esperance again when the teams met in quarter-finals of this Champions League campaign.

Junior Ajayi Having already scored three times against Zamalek and netted twice and made one assist en route to this final, Ajayi clearly carries a goalscoring threat. Even when not scoring, he can be relied up to keep possession, contribute up front thanks to his speed, skill and accurate heading, or play on the wing as required.

A coaching coincidence

Both Al Ahly and Zamalek’s coaches took the helm of their respective teams just before their semi-finals. Al Ahly appointed South African Pitso Mosimane, whose previous side Mamelodi Sundowns crashed out to his current club in the tournament’s quarter-final. For their part, Zamalek appointed Portuguese Jaime Pacheco after Frenchman Patrice Carteron left for Al Taawoun of Saudi Arabia. Pacheco led the White Knights to the final at the expense of Morocco’s Raja Casablanca.

Did you know?

  1. Pitso Mosimane won the Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016 after an incredible turn of events. Despite being eliminated by AS Vita Club in the Round of 16, the South African club were reinstated after the Congo DR side were found to have fielded an ineligible player.

  2. Regardless of what happens on Friday, the Jomaa family have a Champions League winner, given that Saleh Jomaa plays for Al Ahly while his brother Abdullah plays for Zamalek.

  3. Al Ahly defender Ali Maaloul looks set to finally grace a Champions League final after he missed out on the 2017 decider with Wydad Casablanca and that of 2018 against Esperance due to injury.