With a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 at stake, both Mamelodi Sundowns and Zamalek will look back at the 1976 CAF Champions League final between Hafia and MC Alger with some hope.
Cairo giants Zamalek will do so because MC Alger managed to come back after losing the first leg in Conakry against Hafia 3-0 to win by the same score in Algiers. They then went on to lift the trophy after prevailing in a penalty shoot-out. The South African champions Sundowns, meanwhile, will look at the 1976 final and say that it is the only time in the 52-year history of the competition that a team gave away a three-goal lead in the final.
Goals by Anthony Laffor and Tebogo Langerman, as well as an own goal by Eslam Gamal, gave the ‘Brazilians’ a convincing 3-0 victory in the first leg and the advantage ahead of Sunday's return leg in Alexandria.
One of the players Zamalek fans blamed for the heavy defeat in Pretoria was goalkeeper Ahmed El Shenawy, who allowed a speculative long-range effort from Langerman to float over him into the net. El Shenawy stayed in the change room after the break due a muscle strain, but he has been included in Moemen Soliman's squad for the return leg.
The 25-year-old, who has recently also lost his place in the national team to 43-year-old Essam El Hadary, received some support from his club chairman Mortada Mansour, who blamed the intensity of the situation for the performance. He was less forgiving about other players though. “Some players on the team don’t deserve to put on Zamalek’s shirt‚ I’m not going to say who they are‚ they know themselves very well‚” he said after the side lost in South Africa.
Soliman had reportedly announced before the match that he would resign if the White Knights failed to lift their sixth Champions League title, but said after the heavy defeat that he had been misquoted. He too received some backing from Mansour, who said he would not be sacked. “This is football‚ you win one day and you lose another. I have full confidence in Moemen Soliman, and I am sure he will work very hard to win the next game.
“We could beat Sundowns 3-0. We beat Etoile du Sahel 3-0 last year and Wydad Casablanca 4-0 this year‚ so I’m confident that we will raise the trophy in the Borg El Arab Stadium.”
Sundowns not taking things for granted**
Unlike Zamalek, Sundowns have not yet been able to win the showpiece event of African club football, but with a three-goal cushion at their back, they are just a step away from their maiden victory and a place in the FIFA Club World Cup this December in Japan.
Although Sundowns managed to win twice in North Africa in the group phase – once against ES Setif in a game that was annulled and against Zamalek – their record on the road in the competition is not too inspiring. The two victories this year have been their only away wins from their last 10 outings and they also were beaten 3-0 in Egypt by Al Ahly in their only other appearance in the final.
Zimbabwean international Khama Billiat has been one of the stalwarts in the Sundowns side and the striker has warned his team-mates that they still need to finish the job in Egypt. "The goals were important and also not to concede as well, but there is still a lot of work to be done. It won't be easy in Egypt. We need to double our efforts more than we did here. They will try to come at us, we need just to go there and score," he said.
Should Sundowns win the trophy, it would cap a remarkable comeback for the South African club. They were twice eliminated from African club competitions this year, first losing in the play-offs to Congolese side Vita Club and then in the play-offs of the CAF Confederation Cup. They were, however, reinstated into the Champions League after it was ruled that Vita Club had used an ineligible player in a previous round.
Another South African team that will be crossing their fingers for Sundowns is Platinum Stars as the team from Phokeng, who finished third in the South African Premier Division, would earn a spot in next season's Champions League with a Sundowns victory, while Kaizer Chiefs would qualify for next year's Confederation Cup.