Wednesday 25 November 2020, 15:32

Zamalek's Bencharki eyes Champions League repeat

  • Achraf Bencharki dreaming of second Champions League crown

  • Moroccan has played professionally in Africa, Asia and Europe

  • Helped Zamalek to Egypt Cup, CAF Super Cup and Egyptian Super Cup

Zamalek’s Moroccan forward Achraf Bencharki will have another title shot this Friday, when his side take on fellow Egyptians Al Ahly for the 2020 CAF Champions League crown and the right to represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020™.

Bencharki started his professional career at Maghreb de Fes before a 2016 move to Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca, with whom he won a domestic league championship as well as the 2017 Champions League title. During the latter, he also finished as second-highest scorer, netting five goals, including one in the first leg of the final against Al Ahly, the same club he will face on Friday.

While relatively inexperienced at the time of that final in 2017, Bencharki subsequently enjoyed stints in Asia and Europe and will be hoping to draw on that experience when his current side go up against their arch-rivals for the continental crown.

Erick Aguirre of Pachuca is challenged by Achraf Bencharki of Wydad Casablanca

Accumulating experience

After winning the 2017 Champions League, Bencharki participated in that year’s FIFA Club World Cup in UAE, starting Wydad’s first game against Mexico’s Pachuca. The CONCACAF champions prevailed that day with a solitary goal deep in added time, and the Moroccan then sat on the bench in the match for fifth place against AFC champions Urawa Reds of Japan.

A month after that tournament, Bencharki joined Saudi heavyweights Al Hilal, participating in the AFC Champions League and winning the Saudi league in 2018. He followed that with his first professional experience in Europe, joining French club Lens on loan.

“I gained extensive experience playing for a year and a half with Wydad and winning the Moroccan league and Champions League with them,” Bencharki said of his professional career. “After that, I had a good spell with Al Hilal before realising my ambition of playing in Europe, which was a great experience for me.”

Zamalek SC forward Achraf Bencharki

Shining again

Joining Zamalek in July last year marked a new beginning for Bencharki. The 26-year-old helped the White Knights win the Egypt Cup last year and then the CAF Super Cup at the start of this year, scoring twice against Tunisia’s Esperance in the latter. 2020 also yielded an Egyptian Super Cup title at the expense of Al Ahly, which has naturally raised hopes that they can repeat the feat on Friday and capture Africa’s premier club competition.

Bencharki has continued to impress in recent months and contributed heavily to his side’s reaching the Champions League final with five goals, including the decider in the away leg of their semi-final against Raja Casablanca. Zamalek subsequently won the second leg 3-1 in Cairo to set up an all-Egyptian final against Al Ahly.

Discussing his love affair with the African tournament, Bencharki said: “The CAF Champions League is the number one tournament I like to play in. I love to show what I’m really capable of in major tournaments like this one. Now I’m enjoying a very good period like the one I had with Wydad. When you play for such big teams, it brings out the best in you,” he added.

As for the upcoming showdown against Al Ahly, Bencharki finished by saying: “It’s going to be a difficult game in which anything is possible. But personally speaking, I want to win the Champions League title because I love challenges and playing against big teams.”

Whatever the outcome on Friday, Bencharki has certainly won the hearts of Zamalek fans.