“Of course I am happy to have two teams from ‘my country’ in the semi-finals”
A FALLEN giant is on the rise with two of its powerhouses having advanced to the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League. Egyptian clubs Al Ahly and Zamalek advanced to the last four at the expense of Mamelodi Sundowns and the reigning African champions Esperance respectively.
Zamalek and Al Ahly are the most successful teams in the history of the Champions League. Al Ahly have a record eight titles and they are followed by Zamalek who have won the tournament five times.
But in recent years Egyptian football hasn’t been what it once was – a dominant force. The Arab Spring that overthrew Hosni Mubarak had far reaching consequences that entered into the football arena and led to the Egyptian league being suspended at one point.
Upon its return, clubs were forced to play behind closed doors. The situation hasn’t fully returned to normal, with the spectator ban not officially lifted.
But that hasn’t stopped Zamalek and Al Ahly who have been able to hold their own in continental football during those troubling times while the Egyptian national team suffered.
“Of course I am happy to have two teams from ‘my country’ in the semi-finals,” Al Ahly coach Rene Weiler said.
“We did our job, we had a good competition and we qualified for the semi-finals. That is good for the image of Egyptian football to have two teams in the semi-finals.”
Al Ahly were embarrassed at this stage of the competition last year when Sundowns thumped them 5-0 in Pretoria and then sealed the deal in Egypt to advance to the last four. This time around Al Ahly had the last laugh.
“Losing 5-0 last year wasn’t good,” Weiler said.
“The result we got today against Sundowns to qualify for the semi-finals is good revenge for us for that defeat.”
The semi-finals will be a battle of Egypt and Morocco. Al Ahly will take on Wydad Casablanca while Zamalek will square off with Raja Casablanca. The make-up of the last four shows where the power of continental football lies.
“You have to understand the trend of Champions League and how it goes,” Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane said. “South Africa you’ve got to wake up and smell the coffee. There are two Egyptian teams in the semi-fnals, their biggest clubs.
“Zamalek just won the CAF Super Cup and Egypt Super Cup. They have made some big signings and they have strengthened the team. There are two strong Tunisian teams in the last eight and two strong Moroccan teams. You had (TP) Mazembe, a big team and then Sundowns. We have a long way to go. We will try and do our best.
“We will fight to make you proud, but we are yet to be on that level. We are fighting.
“Look at the budgets, the clubs and the turnout, guys this is the best Champions League quarter-finals in history.”