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CAF Champions League 2019-20 Semi-final Preview: Wydad (MAR) vs Al Ahly (EGY)

The CAF Champions League semi-finals will kickoff with the first leg matchup between Egyptian champions Al Ahly and Moroccan runners-up Wydad Casablanca on October 17. 1st leg hosts Wydad ended the 2019-20 Botola season with disappointment by failing to win their domestic league, but will have all their focus on obtaining a trophy and making it to a second straight Champions League final.

Al Ahly look to be the favorites to capture their ninth Champions League title after a dominant 2019-20 Egyptian Premier League season. New coach Pitso Mosimane had limited time to get up to speed, but the talent at his disposal and the team’s form support Ahly’s status as favorites. Here is Pan-Africa Football’s preview of the opening match:

Wydad

Ismail El Haddad has been a regular source of goals from the wing for Wydad this season.

Path to the Semi-Finals

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Expected formation and team profile

Compared to last year’s Botola-winning campaign, the 2019-20 season has been filled with inconsistency and instability. Experienced European managers Sébastien Desabre and Juan Carlos Garrido only lasted six and seven matches respectively in their brief tenures, and they are now on their fourth coach of the season since Argentinian Miguel Angel Gamoudi took over in early September. The results stabilized under Gamoudi, but a ten-match unbeaten run to end the season was not enough to overtake rivals Raja for this season’s Botola title.

Wydad have been by far the most prolific offensive team in Morocco this season but will be missing several key contributors on defense that has forced the technical staff to improvise. Center-backs Achraf Dari and Cheick Comara are out with long-term injuries, and the hero of the quarter-final round, Mohamed Nahiri, has moved to Al-Ain in Saudi Arabia. In recent matches, veteran defensive midfielder Salaheddine Saidi and the sparingly used Mohamed Rahim have formed a makeshift partnership in the center of defense. The consolation is that irreplaceable goalkeeper Ahmed Reda Tagnouti is a more than capable backstop.

Badie Aouk and Ismail El Haddad have been high-level wing presences for years in the Botola and are regular threats to get behind defenses. Walid El Karti offers a creative presence in the center of midfield. In the attack, co-leading scorer Ayoub El Kaabi will not be eligible, but Congolese international Kazadi Kasengu is ready for the responsibility of being the physical #9 up top. Thanks to Wydad’s midfield and attack, The Reds will remain confident in their ability to create goals.

Al Ahly

Ali Maâloul: Al Ahly’s attack minded left-back 

Path to the Semi-Finals

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Expected formation and team profile

Al Ahly have had an excellent season in the 2019-20 Egyptian Premier League, easily clinching the title with only one loss and eight goals conceded through 33 of 34 matches. Their only blemishes have been two losses to rivals Zamalek, one in the league and the other in the Egyptian Super Cup, along with a spotty Champions League group stage campaign that ended with them needing a result in Sudan to advance to the knockout round. What has led to a bit of doubt going into the semi-finals is the sudden departure of coach Rene Weiler, leading to the hiring of successful South African coach Pitso Mosimane on October 2. Mosimane has done well to get results in his three matches so far, but two weeks is still a short span for adaptation.

Mosimane will be relieved to have a few regulars returning in the defense to call upon. Ali Maâloul will return from international duty to drive forward from the left-back position. Goalkeeper and captain Mohamed El Shenawy, as well as center-back Ayman Ashraf are expected to return from minor knocks. A tough decision awaits Mosimane at right-back, with the experienced Ahmed Fathy and Mohamed Hany to choose from.

There are a wealth of options to select from in the midfield. Amr El Soleya brings a two-way presence in the center of midfield with an eye for goal. Hussein El Shahat and Nigerian Junior Ajayi aren’t the most eye-catching wide players, but fulfill their tactical roles well and contribute to Ahly’s physical style. Mohamed Magdy “Afsha” operates as the creative otulet and has the vision to set up attackers making runs. Mahmoud “Kahraba” and veteran Walid Soliman will be options as well in attacking midfield roles or up top.

The starting role up top has a few candidates, but Marwan Mohsen is a reliable, if unspectacular, option as an industrious #9. Senegalese target forward Aliou Badji has shown a few flashes but has yet to find his footing in Egyptian football. If Mosimane takes a different approach, Badji or Mohsen may be partnered with a creative midfielder like Kahraba or Soliman.

Prediction

The attacking weapons of Wydad make them a capable underdog, but it is hard to see them holding up against Al Ahly’s physical and dynamic attack. There is an air of unpredictability in the matchup due to the new coaches, but Ahly’s quality throughout the squad should see them through over two legs.

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