Johannesburg - Pitso Mosimane’s dream of entering African football immortality went up in smoke in the cauldron of the Mohamed V Stadium in Casablanca on Monday night.
A brace of goals by Zaouhair El Moutaraji put paid to Mosimane’s hopes of becoming the first coach to win three successive CAF Champions League titles as Wydad Athletic Club dethroned Al Ahly.
It was somewhat a case of lightning striking twice for the Egyptian Red Devils who were failing a second time to win a hat-trick of the continent’s premier club knockout competition.
Back in 2007, Ahly lost 3-1 to Etoile du Sahel in the final having won the title in the preceding two years under the tutelage of the legendary coach Manuel Jose.
On Monday night, Mosimane – a winner with the Red Devils in 2020 and 2021 - was not only looking to help Ahly make amends for that failing from 15 years ago, but he was also seeking to equal Jose’s record of four Champions League titles.
Wydad had other plans though, and - buoyed on by their partisan crowd in their own backyard that was supposedly a neutral venue - the Moroccans put a spanner in the works.
El Moutaraji returned to the team after missing the semifinal due to suspension and played the hero role as he entered his name into Wydad folklore with a brace.
He opened the scoring with a spectacular goal from range to ensure that Wydad went into the half-time break in the lead even though Ahly enjoyed a lion’s share of the possession.
Having seen his teammamte Guy Mbenza rattle the crossbar with a strike from outside the box on 11 minutes, El Moutaraji decided to also try his luck. And the player who missed the semifinal against Petro Athletico on suspension, hit the jackpot. Receiving possession just outside the box on the left of the pitch, he cut inside before unleashing a thunderbolt that Mohamed El Shanawy could do nothing about.
He then scored a second shortly after the break, this time capitalizing on some poor marking when Mohamed Hany was slow to react to a shot coming into the box. Opportunistic El Moutaraji got in front of him, and his first attempt proved too hot to handle for El Shenawy in the Ahly goals but the striker was alert and sloitted home the lose ball to kill the match off as a contest.
As it was, Wydad could have scored a second almost immediately after scoring the first but a dangerous looking cross into the box was cleared before it got to Mbenza.
Thereafter it was Ahly all the way, the defending champions dominating possession and threatening from set-pieces. They forced three corners in a row and from the third one Yasser Ibrahim’s header missed the target having peeled away from his marker on 24 minutes.
Ten minutes later Hussein El Shahat flashed his own header inches wide from yet another corner. After that there was a free-kick attempt by Ali Maaloul which Wydad’s goalkeeper Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti did well to punch out of the penalty area as a cluster of Ahly players looked to pounce.
In a rare attack, Wydad’s El Moutaraji had his attempt deflected away for a corner before an Ahly counter-attack just before the half-time break saw sdfsdfsdf coming out of his box to head the ball away from the on-rushing Percy Tau as the Egyptian giants searched for the equalizer.
The early goal by Wydad in the second half saw Mosimane clutching his head, stunned that his quest for continental club football glory was over and so too perhaps his reign as Ahly coach.
Mosimane went into the match under huge pressure from the Ahly fans and some of the club’s legends who are not impressed that he failed towin the domestic league in the previous season and is again looking likely to come out second best against local rivals Zamalek.
Late in the match Ahly tried in vain to get a goal but they found Tagnaouti impregnable.