The final of the CAF Champions League could be an all-North African affair after Esperance and Al Ahly won their respective groups, thereby avoiding a semi-final clash. Orlando Pirates grabbed the final place in the round of the last-four by holding the already qualified Ahly to a goalless draw, with the winner of the competition set to represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year in Morocco.
Game of the week
Zamalek 4-1 AC Leopards
If ever there was a game that Leopards' fans would have preferred the White Knights not to find their form, it was the final group game. Needing to do better than Pirates on the day, the club from the Congo were simply outplayed by the five-time champions, who had already been eliminated ahead of the match. Leopards put up some resistance in the opening half and went ahead through Rudy Bhebey-Ndey in the 23rd minute, but Mohamed Ibrahim and Shikabala turned matters around before the break. Ahmed Gaafar added two goals in the second half to give the home side a convincing victory in the Red Sea resort of El-Gouna. Both sides finished on seven points, but Zamalek took third place through the head-to-head results.
Although seven-time champions Al Ahly were assured of a place in the semi-finals, there was still plenty at stake in their final Group A game in Johannesburg against Orlando Pirates, with the South African club needing to win to be guaranteed a place in the next round. Ahly, on the other hand, needed a draw to avoid finishing behind the Buccaneers, thus avoiding Esperance in the semi-finals. Pirates looked the stronger side in the first half, but failed to create many chances and once the Zamalek score (which was being played at the same time) began to filter through to South Africa, there was no reason for Pirates to go forward. As suck the proceedings coasted to a scoreless draw, giving both teams a place in the round of the last four with Ahly finishing on 11 points and Pirates on eight.
In Group B, the only thing outstanding ahead of the final round of matches was whether Sewe Sport or Recreativo would finish third with the honours going to the Ivorian side after a 2-2 draw in Angola. Last year's beaten finalists Esperance had already won the group and finished the group phase with a 2-1 victory at second-placed Coton Sport through first-half goals by Khaled Gharsallaoui and Ahmed Akaichi. The home side, who earlier had a penalty saved, pulled one back deep into second-half injury time through Niger international Daouda Kamilou. The Tunisian club won the group with 15 points, while Coton placed second on eight and the other two sides finished with five.
Player of the week
Disappointingly, Zamalek forward Mohamed Ibrahim started the last three Champions League matches on the bench. But when given a chance to start against Leopards by coach Helmi Toulan, the 21-year-old grabbed it. Not only did he score the all-important equaliser, the Pharaohs' international was an integral part of Zamalek's attack from the off. "We were eager to beat Leopards to apologise to our fans," he said after the game. "We defeated a strong team which produced strong performances during the competition and they were close to reaching the semis."
The stat 6 -The number of matches that Al Ahly has played against Cameroon clubs in African club competition. Their semi-final tie against Coton Sport will be game seven and eight. In 1983 the Cairo giants beat Canon Yaounde 5-0 and 1-0 in the quarter-finals of the CAF Champions Cup, and a year later they beat the same opposition in the final of the CAF Cup Winners' Cup on penalties after both sides won their home matches 1-0. In 2008, Ahly beat Coton Sport 4-2 on aggregate (2-0 and 2-2) in the Champions League final.
What they said
"We had chances and we should have put one away... we played to win - there is no doubt about it. We’ve done the country proud and qualified for a change," Orlando Pirates coach Roger de Saafter the 2005 champions qualified for the semi-finals.
Have your say
Are we going to have a repeat of last year's final when Al Ahly faced Esperance en route to the Egyptians' seventh title. In order for that to happen, the two North African teams have to first see off Coton Sport and Orlando Pirates respectively in the semi-finals.