North African giants Al Ahly and Wydad Athletic Club meet up at the Mohamed V Stadium in Casablanca in the final of the TotalEnergies CAF Champions League final on Monday night for the 11th time, each with varied dreams and ambitions.
The two remnants of a grueling and competitive 2021-22 season are angling for each other’s necks, two years after their last meeting.
Ahly are in search of a record extending 11th Champions League title and a record third in a row, while Wydad are in search of their third piece of continental kingship, five years after they won their second.
The Mohamed V Stadium in Casablanca will offer the platform for this epic battle between Africa’s best as the entire continent sits on the edge of their seats, keen to see who will blink first.
Wydad will feel the wind of favor slightly blowing their way as the final is hosted in their home turf, a stadium where they have lost only once in their last 15 matches across all competitions.
The Moroccan giants are playing the final for the third time since their last conquest in 2017, where coincidentally, they beat Ahly in the final, when it was still a two-legged affair.
After back-to-back losses in the semis over the last two seasons, the red Castles believe it is their time to be crowned kings of the continent with head coach Walid Regragui seeking his first continental title with the side, having been appointed last season.
Ahly on the other hand are in race with history. They completed the coveted La Ashara last season winning their 10th continental title, but the hunger for one more is as fresh as their hunger for the 10th.
They could also make history by winning the title for a third consecutive time while head coach Pitso Mosimane is looking to become only the second coach to win the Champions League four times.
These two sides have met 10 times before with Ahly standing tall on head to head record, having won four times and lost two, the remaining four ending in draws. Half of Ahly’s wins have come away, while they have also lost an equal number in Morocco. One of the four draws was also in Morocco.
Their last meeting was during the 2019-20 season where they met in the semi-finals of the Champions League, Ahly sweeping away both home and away assignments. They won 2-0 at the Mohamed V Complex before finishing the job in Cairo with a 3-1 victory.
However, both these matches were played behind closed doors as it was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their 2017 meeting in the final where Wydad won their second and most recent title ended in a 2-1 victory for the Moroccans. They drew 1-1 in the first leg before Walid El Karti scored the winner in a 1-0 result in Casablanca.
Still in that season, coach Mosimane faced Wydad, when he was coach at Mamelodi Sundowns as they lost 3-2 on penalties in the quarter finals. They had won 1-0 at home but lost by a similar margin in the return tie in Casablanca to force the game to penalties after a 1-1 aggregate draw.
Players to watch
South African Percy Tau, signed from English Premier League side Brighton has proved worth every penny. He was the star of the show in the semi-final victory over ES Setif, scoring twice and assisting the other two in their first leg 4-0 win, and also laid one assist in the 2-2 draw away from home.
Overall, Tau has been directly involved in eight goals (three goals, five assists) this season, the highest since Trésor Mputu for TP Mazembe in 2018-19 (9 – four goals, five assists).
Defensively, the leadership from Mohamed Elshenawy from the back can never be taken for granted, and the shot stopper is expected to play an equally crucial role especially in a game where they come up against a side that is full of attacking prowess.
With four goals so far in the tournament as a midfielder, Yahya Jabrane has been the bedrock of Wydad’s campaign this season. His influence especially moving forward has been phenomenal, and his ability to open even the tightest of defenses has been key for the Moroccan side.
If Wydad are to destabilize Ahly’s game plan, then Jebrane will be the man to pull the trigger on the gun that shoots down their defensive shape.
Congolese forward Guy Mbenza is also one to watch out for, and his huge frame is expected to birth out a massive clash against the Ahgly backline marshalled by Mohamed Abdelmonem.
What they said
Pitso Mosimane: Al Ahly coach
When we came from Cairo, we came here to win. Unfortunately we didn’t win against Raja when we played them here but we believe we can win this time. We are Al Ahly and I am not saying it will be easy. It will be difficult just as it was against Raja. But we are a serious team so you should be careful when playing against us.
Walid Regragui: Wydad AC coach
It’s gonna be a good show. We are happy to be the team that will participate in the final. (Al Ahly) are a balanced team. They are a team that is mentally strong, tactically well in place, psychologically, physically and technically. But we prepared well.