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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Stalemate over two legs leads to PK shootout drama with Raja coming out on top over Pyramids and advancing to CAFCC final

Raja Casablanca and Pyramids played out a stalemate over two legs in their CAF Confederation Cup semifinal matchup, but Raja just edged the Egyptian side in penalty kick shootout that featured all sorts of twists and turns to clinch their spot in the final. Goalkeeper Anas Zniti was the hero by saving Mohamed Hamdi’s spot kick and now the defending Morocco Botola Pro champions will face off against Algeria’s JS Kabylie in the final on July 10.

Just like the first leg in Cairo, opportunities were few and far between for both sides throughout the second leg’s 90 minutes and a penalty kick shootout was necessary to separate the deadlocked teams. Raja dictated most of the play but Pyramids had a tactical plan that limited the high flying Green Eagles attack to few clear cut chances and maintained the Egyptian club’s threat on the counter attack. Ibrahim Adel and Ramadan Sobhi kept Raja’s defense honest with their ability to get by multiple defenders and make big plays.

Ben Malango was the biggest threat for either team when it came to getting a breakthrough. His first opportunity came in the 27th minute when a Abdelilah Madkour cross found the towering Congolese striker, but Malango’s bouncing header was tipped wide by Pyramids keeper Ahmed El Shenawy. The 44th minute was the closest Malango came as he got a powerful head to Abdelilah Hafidi’s cross but the ball rattled off the post and clear with El Shenawy clearly beaten. A minute later Pyramids had their best chance when Adel played an intricate combination with Sobhi but sent his shot low and far wide.

There was little to no looks for either team after the halftime break and the only statistic that increased were the yellow cards, with each team picking up three over the course of the match. When the referee blew for full time and penalty kicks it was no surprise at all, but the shootout created plenty of drama to make up for the lack of goals over 180 minutes.

After both teams converted their opening kicks, star players on both sides stumbled with Malango’s tame effort easily saved and Sobhi also failing to convert. Raja defender Sanad Al Warfali sent his shot over the bar to make it two misses in a row and the shootout was Pyramids’ to lose. With each team converting steadily, it came down to the fifth attempt for Pyramids that would have seen them advance. However, with Raja keeper Anas Zniti guessing correctly, Mohamed Farouk shot low and wide of the goal to revive hope for the Moroccan club.

In the seventh set of kicks, Raja substitute midfielder Fabrice Ngoma tried to fake out El Shenawy but the Pyramids keeper read the Congolese player’s strike with ease and stopped it. Now was another chance for Pyramids to win it, but another substitute, Ahmed Tawfik, blasted his shot high and over the bar to keep the tension running and at an all time high. Madkour delivered to start the eighth round and Hamdi had his turn for Pyramids, but Zniti got down to deny the shot and Raja’s transformation from dismay to ecstasy was complete.

Highlights of the match and penalty kick shootout are below.