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Ahly avenge horror loss to Sundowns by reaching semi-finals

Johannesburg (AFP) – Al Ahly of Egypt avenged a humiliating loss to Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa last season by drawing 1-1 in Pretoria on Saturday to win a CAF Champions League quarter-final. 

Record eight-time African champions Ahly led 2-0 after the first leg last weekend and qualified 3-1 on aggregate for a semi-finals showdown with Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.

At the same stage last season, Sundowns crushed Ahly 5-0 in Pretoria to inflict the heaviest defeat on them since a six-goal loss in the 1942 Egyptian Cup final.

Wydad scraped through 2-1 overall after losing 1-0 at Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, for whom leading Champions League scorer Karim Aribi notched his 11th of the season.

Raja Casablanca reached the semi-finals after a 15-year absence despite losing 1-0 away to TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo as they won the first leg 2-0 at home. 

On Friday, Zamalek of Egypt knocked out defending champions Esperance of Tunisia, falling 1-0 in Tunis to an early penalty but going through 3-2 on aggregate.

The two-leg semi-finals during May will pit Cairo and Casablanca clubs against each other with Raja facing Zamalek and Wydad tackling Ahly.

Any hopes Sundowns had of wiping out the two-goal first-leg deficit virtually disappeared 21 minutes into the first half when Lebohang Maboe conceded an own-goal.

He stuck out a foot to try and deflect an Ali Maaloul free-kick away from danger, but only succeeded in pushing the ball past goalkeeper Denis Onyango into the corner of the net.

Uruguayan Gaston Sirino levelled six minutes later by firing a loose ball into the net after goalkeeper Mohamed el Shenawy parried a Phakamani Mahlambi shot.

– ‘Once-in-a-lifetime achievement’ –

Sundowns needed at least three more goals under the away-goal rule to reach the semi-finals, but never looked like achieving the feat against a tight Ahly defence.  

“Scoring five goals against Ahly was probably a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. It may never happen again,” admitted Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane.

The overall success moves Swiss Rene Weiler one step closer to becoming the first coach from the central European nation to win the CAF Champions League.

“I am proud of my team because they have eliminated one of the best teams in Africa. My number one objective this season is to win the CAF Champions League,” he said.

On the domestic front, Ahly are runaway leaders in the Egyptian title race with 16 straight victories since the season kicked off giving them a 16-point advantage.    

Meanwhile, a goal by 16-year-old Tshikuna Tshibangu five minutes after half-time was all Mazembe could manage before a capacity 20,000 crowd in southern city Lubumbashi.

Tshibangu slipped undetected into the box and connected with a lobbed pass before striking the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Anas Zniti.

Mazembe could have gone two goals ahead 20 minutes from time when a Zniti foul led to a penalty, but the shot-stopper redeemed himself by using his foot to foil Jackson Muleka.

The qualification of Wydad was particularly sweet for coach Juan Carlos Garrido as the Spaniard was fired by Etoile last month following poor domestic results.

He and his team survived some anxious moments after Aribi took advantage of hesitation between Wydad captain Brahim Nakach and goalkeeper Ahmed Tagnaouti to score on 58 minutes.

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