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CAFCC Semifinal Preview: Al Ahli Tripoli (LBY) vs. Orlando Pirates (RSA)

A struggling Orlando Pirates side makes the 17-hour trip to Benghazi, Libya for the first leg of their CAF Confederation Cup semifinal duel against Al Ahli Tripoli with both clubs having an excellent opportunity to reach a major final. After eliminating Tripoli rivals Al-Ittihad in an all-Libyan quarterfinal, Ahli would become the first Libyan team to make it to a CAF club competition final if they are able to overcome the Bucs. Orlando Pirates will hope to overcome their poor domestic league form to return to the CAFCC final, where they previously lost to Tunisia’s Étoile du Sahel in 2015.

There are conflicting reports regarding whether supporters will be allowed into the Benina Martyrs Stadium in Benghazi on Sunday. It was previously reported that CAF gave Ahli permission to have up to 60,000 fans attend but Libyan media outlet Libya Al-Mostakbal reported that Ahli’s management is encouraging supporters to NOT attend for fear of incurring sanctions from CAF. Regardless, numerous Ahli fans have made the long trip from Tripoli to Benghazi to witness a historic occasion for their club. The stadium had new grass installed, drawing the praise of Ahli goalkeeper Mohamed Nashnoush after the team arrived on Thursday for their preparations.

Ahli’s Tunisian manager, Fathi Jabal, emphasized that the primary objective against Pirates is to not concede any away goals and maintain their tactical discipline. With only five goals allowed in their last eight CAFCC matches, Al Ahli will fancy their odds of shutting out a Pirates attack that has struggled mightily in attack. Standout Tunisian midfielder Ayoub Ayed, on loan from Étoile, will reportedly be out in a blow to the center of Ahli’s midfield. Nashnoush will anchor the defense with his leadership while left sided attacking presence Mohamed El Monir will look to provide service for forwards Mohamed Anis Saltou and Moroccan Mohamed El Fakih.

Pirates did well to edge Tanzania’s Simba SC in a heated quarterfinal clash via a penalty kick shootout, but positive energy is difficult to find in the Bucs camp at the moment. Sitting in 6th place in South Africa’s DStv Premiership, the Sea Robbers have failed to score in their last three league matches against relegation battlers TS Galaxy, Chippa United and Baroka FC. After making controversial comments around both legs of the Simba clash and due to the team’s poor league form, Pirates co-coach Mandla Ncikazi and fellow coach Fadlu Davids are on the hot seat and will need to find a way to spark an attack that has been quite poor.

Who will be counted upon to lead the line for Pirates? Ghanaian Kwame Peprah along with Zimbabwean Terence Dzvukamanja and South African option Tshegofatso Mabasa have all failed to consistently find the net this season but Peprah has been the most productive and should start. Deon Hotto, Thembinkosi Lorch and Kabelo Dlamini offer speed and creativity on the wings and Goodman Mosele has excelled in a central playmaking role.

Bandile Shandu and Innocent Maela are solid full backs with physically imposing center back options that include Nigerian Olisa Ndah, Ntsikelelo Nyauza and the experienced Happy Jele. Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Ofori was the hero in the penalty kick shootout and even converted the winning spot kick, making this CAFCC tie one that looks likely to be low scoring and determined by the slimmest of margins.

Al Ahli Tripoli looking to join Africa’s elite (SuperSport)
Pirates out to deny Al Ahli making more history (SuperSport)

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