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The Battle Of Cairo In The CAF Champions League Final

 

Better late than never. The CAF Champions League, Africa’s premier club competition, will at last see its final, a mere 182 days after it was originally planned earlier this year. Al Ahly and Zamalek square off, in the battle of Cairo.

By: Arash Rezai

A Year of Firsts

2020 has been a year of firsts and it’s no different for the CAF Champions League. For the first time in its history, the competition’s showpiece match will be played as a single game instead of the traditional two-legged affair.

It’s also the first CAF Champions League final to be played between teams from the same country, Egypt. The Land of the Pharaohs will provide a 15th winner of the tournament – that’s nine more than any other African country and over a quarter of all African Cup of Champions Clubs/CAF Champions League triumphs.

It’s lonely atop the Pyramids.

Al Ahly > Zamalek

It’s something of a complex that Zamalek have developed towards their mighty Cairo neighbours. Zamalek are not only 30 Egyptian league titles down on Al Ahly (12 to 42) – and three down in terms of African Cup of Champions Clubs/CAF Champions League titles – they’ve also never beaten them in eight CAF Champions League encounters. Their only previous meeting in the CAF Champions League knockout stages came in 2005, with Al Ahly running out 4-1 victors on aggregate in the semis

Zamalek might take some comfort from the fact that Al Ahly have stumbled recently in the showpiece event, losing their last two CAF Champions League finals, in 2017 and 2018. Al Ahly manager Pitso Mosimane might have something to say about that – his Mamelodi Sundowns team were the last to beat Zamalek in a CAF Champions League final, back in 2016.

Another positive Zamalek can take into the final is that the last domestic meeting between these two sides came in August, with Zamalek winning it 3-1, with Zizo, Mostafa Mohamed and Osama Faisal all on the scoresheet. Although, Al Ahly didn’t go down without a fight, peppering the Zamalek goal with 26 shots, finding the target on seven occasions.

Let Me Entertain You

Al Ahly have real pedigree in the African Cup of Champions Clubs/CAF Champions League, having won it on eight occasions; three more than any other side. This season they have asserted their dominance once again with fantastic possession-based football and plenty of goals and shots.

Al Ahly lead the competition in both possession and passes, with only one side racking up more shots and shots on target per game.

Al Ahly’s supremacy in possession has seen them have more of the ball in 10 of their last 11 CAF Champions League games, something they pride themselves on in the red half of Cairo.

Bodies On The Line

Zamalek play a different style of football to their Cairo rivals. They average nearly 7% less possession and average 87 fewer passes per game in the CAF Champions League this season. However, what they lack in ball retention they make up for in will and determination. Zamalek have averaged 3.4 blocks per game, the second-highest figure in the competition this term.

Zamalek are not a side who like to press their opponents high up the field. They average just 9.7 pressed sequences per game in the 2019/20 CAF Champions League, the lowest figure of any side in the competition. This is also demonstrated by the fact the average starting distance of their open play sequences is just 37.9 metres from their own goal (third-lowest figure in the competition).

Interestingly, at the other end of the field, Zamalek are the most productive at the end of games, scoring 66% of their goals in the final 30 minutes (8 of 12), the highest such percentage this season.

Bencharki, the Six-Yard Fox

Achraf Bencharki has been in great form in the CAF Champions League this season. No player has been directly involved in more goals in the competition (7, 5 goals and 2 assists) after he assisted Zamalek’s equaliser against Raja Casablanca in the semi-final second leg. In fact, he has been directly involved in 13 goals in his last 15 CAF Champions League appearances (10 goals, 3 assists).

This season especially he has been deadly inside the six-yard box, with all of his such shots finding the back of the net.

Achraf Bencharki xG shot map 19/20

A Crack In The Wall?

It’s been a magnificent few years for Al Ahly goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy, from receiving a man of the match award in Egypt’s narrow 1-0 defeat to Uruguay at the 2018 World Cup, to helping his side to the 2020 CAF Champions League final. El-Shenawy has been in terrific form this campaign making some crucial saves en route to the CAF showpiece. Indeed, only Mamelodi Sundowns’ goalkeeper Denis Masinde Onyango (2.5) has prevented more goals than the Egyptian (2.1)

Mohamed El-Shenawy xGOT map

However, there is something of note in the graphic above. Each of the five goals conceded by El-Shenawy in the competition have come down to his right-hand side, an obvious weakness in his armour that Zamalek should look to exploit come November 27th.


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