Chiefs to face Ahly after reaching first CAF Champions League final

Johannesburg (AFP) – South African club Kaizer Chiefs reached the CAF Champions League final for the first time on Saturday despite being held 0-0 at home by Moroccan outfit Wydad Casablanca.    

Chiefs won the semi-final 1-0 on aggregate after a shock first-leg victory in north Africa last weekend through a goal from Serbian Samir Nurkovic.

In the July 17 final in Casablanca, Chiefs will face title-holders Al Ahly of Egypt, who beat 10-man Esperance of Tunisia 3-0 in Cairo to complete a 4-0 overall victory after winning 1-0 away.   

It will be the second meeting between Chiefs and Ahly with goalkeeper Essam el Hadary scoring off a clearing kick when the Cairo Red Devils triumphed 4-1 at home in the 2002 CAF Super Cup match.

Wydad, hot pre-penultimate stage favourites to eliminate Chiefs and play the final at their ground, dominated the second leg in a 95,000-seat Soccer City stadium devoid of fans due to the coronavirus.

But the visitors created few clearcut chances, with the best falling to substitute Muaid Ellafi just before the hour when he soared unchallenged only to head a cross above the crossbar.

Chiefs spent virtually the entire 90 minutes in their half, defending in depth but unable to keep the ball for long when they dispossessed the visitors.

While the Casablanca club had little difficulty reaching the final third of the pitch, they lacked creativity when attempting to find a way past a packed Chiefs defence.

– Embarrassing position –

Chiefs have reached the final of the marquee African club competition at the sixth attempt after never going past the second round previously.

Success in Africa has come while they struggled at home, finishing an embarrassing eighth in the national league this month and falling in the first round of the FA Cup to a second-tier club.

Winners of a national record 53 competitions since being formed in 1970, Chiefs have gone six consecutive domestic seasons without lifting a trophy. 

The woeful form cost coach Gavin Hunt his job just eight months into a three-year contract with his assistants, Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard, taking temporary charge. 

Chiefs have rehired English coach Stuart Baxter, but the 67-year-old had to watch both matches against Wydad from the stands as he awaits a work permit.  

Adding to Chiefs’ problems was a season-long transfer ban imposed by FIFA after the club illegally signed Madagascar midfielder Dax from a club in his homeland. It will be lifted only next month.

It was the second successive season in which 1992 and 2017 champions Wydad were eliminated in the semi-finals — they lost at home and away to Ahly last year.

In Cairo, Esperance suffered a huge blow when Ilyes Chetti was red-carded just before Ali Maaloul converted a 38th-minute penalty to put Ahly ahead in another spectator-less match due to Covid-19.

Any hopes of a comeback by the Tunisian team vanished in the four minutes leading up to the hour as Mohamed Sherif scored his fifth goal of the campaign and Hussein el Shahat his first.

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