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Al Ahly too clever for dominant Wits

Cup Competitions

JOHANNESBURG – There was certainly hope for Bidvest Wits, who needed only to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of this first-round CAF Champions League tie.

It was doable and coach Gavin Hunt’s attacking line-up sent a strong message that he, too, was optimistic about the Clever Boys’ chances.

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Wits left winger Daine Klate goes flying after yet another dubious challenge by Walid Suleiman of Al Ahly. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePixGiant Al Ahly goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy, who is 1.93m, made a number of fine saves to deny Wits. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePixAhmed Hegazy of Al Ahly makes life tough for Wits star Phakamani Mahlambi. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

But the obstacle was a side incredibly experienced in this competition, having won it an astonishing eight times – the best team in Africa.

Wits didn’t do enough though in a 0-0 draw on Sunday, which meant that they were knocked out 1-0 on aggregate after a first-leg loss in Cairo.

Their two best opportunities to break the deadlock came on the stroke of halftime when defender and captain on the day, Buhle Mkhwanazi, had his goal-bound header miraculously saved by Al Ahly goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy, and striker Gabadinho Mhango’s shot shaving the near post and going out for a goal kick.

The visitors were made to feel a little bit a home. Usually poor travellers, the Egyptians were comfortably at home, with Wits proving once again that it doesn’t matter how much of the ball you can have in your possession, if you do not score, the result will not go in your favour.

Wits were cautious in the opening minutes and weren’t helped by the fact that their two main attackers – James Keene, who missed the first leg in Cairo due to injury, and young Phakamani Mahlambi – were hardly themselves.

To borrow a Hunt classic, Mahlambi had the ball three times and lost it five times. It was that awful, and no one was surprised when he made way for Elias Pelembe a bit early in the second half.

Al Ahly protected their lead, a goal scored by defender Ahmed Hegazy a week ago, and one which would see them progress to the group stages of the Champions League on aggregate with aplomb.

Although breached by Wits several times, including those two chances just before the halftime break from Mkhwanazi and Mhango, their man-mountain of a goalkeeper Ekramy was like a wall, earning his keep and playing a huge role in guaranteeing the pursuit for a ninth title lives on.

Ahmed Hegazy of Al Ahly makes life tough for Wits star Phakamani Mahlambi. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

And they could have extended their overall lead in the dying minutes when forward Amr Gamal blitzed past the Wits defence with ease and found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs, who hardly had anything to do all afternoon.

But the woodwork came to his rescue, Gamal’s attempt clearly good enough to beat him but not the post.

Had Mahlambi and Keene been on song, life would have been a lot easier for Wits. They dominated enough to get the required two-goal advantage to overturn the first leg result, even without their captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, whose yellow card in the away clash was his second caution of the tournament and meant he’d be suspended for this encounter.

The feat means Wits are now relegated to the CAF Confederation Cup, the less prestigious of the two continental tournaments but still credible, where they will be involved in the playoff to try and reach the group stages there.

Independent Media
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