Kaizer Chiefs will have the chance to join rivals Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns as CAF Champions League winners when they face Al Ahly in the 2020-21 season final in Casablanca, Morocco on Saturday night.
Kick-off at Stade Mohamed V is scheduled for 9pm CAT and will be broadcast live on SuperSport, with live streaming on DStv and Showmax.
Chiefs have upset the odds all the way through their CAFCL campaign. They scraped through the preliminaries before edging out Horoya AC by the finest of margins (away goals on head-to-head count-back) to advance from the group phase, survived a storming comeback attempt from Simba SC in the quarterfinals and then defeated Wydad Casablanca 1-0 on aggregate in the semifinals.
Along the way the Amakhosi endured a miserable domestic campaign in parallel with their African exploits (which ultimately brought about the dismissal of manager Gavin Hunt), but reaching their first Champions League final is a major milestone.
Winning the continental title would certainly bring further glamour to South Africa’s best-supported club, as they could join Pirates (1995) and Sundowns (2016) in putting a star above their club crest to signify a CAFCL title triumph.
“We’re just going to enjoy every moment of it because we’ve come a long way to be where we are,” said Chiefs attacker Lebogang Manyama.
“We should be very, very proud, but we want to go as far as taking [the trophy] and putting a star on our jersey.
"That would mean a lot because every Kaizer Chiefs fan deserves this after the rough times we’ve had without winning a trophy, and now all of a sudden, we’re competing for the biggest one on the continent. We have to do this for the badge.”
Al Ahly, however, head into the match as heavy favourites. The Egyptian giants, managed by South African Pitso Mosimane, had a minor slip by not finishing top of their group but then emphatically ousted Mamelodi Sundowns (3-1 on aggregate) and Esperance de Tunis (4-0 on aggregate) in the quarter- and semifinals respectively.
The Red Devils are the reigning African champions and will be seeking a record-extending 10th continental crown, while they also have the advantage of being in playing rhythm: Ahly have racked up four domestic league matches since the second leg of their semifinal in late June, while Chiefs have not had the chance to play any competitive fixtures and could well be rusty heading into the final.
Mosimane has admitted that it will be strange coming up against a South African side, but he is fully committed to guiding Ahly to yet more CAFCL glory.
“I am a South African playing against my home team, a team I supported when I grew up. At this time, it is about me, my family and my team [Al Ahly]. They come first,” said the former Sundowns coach.
He added, “We are not a welfare or charitable organisation handing out stars. Everybody must earn it. Al Ahly want to win their own ‘la decima’ [10th title], they call it the ‘El Ashra’ here, and Kaizer Chiefs want to get their own star.”
DUELS TO WATCH
Badr Banoun v Samir Nurkovic
Kaizer Chiefs’ main attacking thrust will be focused through Serbian striker Samir Norkovic, whose movement and aerial power mark him out as a genuine threat. Al Ahly centre-back Badr Banoun will be in for a tough physical tussle in a duel that could go a long way in deciding the game.
Mohamed Magdi Kafsha v Siyabonga Ngezana
Al Ahly’s Mohamed Magdi Kafsha is one of their creative drivers in midfield, a player who is comfortable drifting out wide or directing traffic through the middle. He is likely to come into direct battle with Chiefs’ Siyabonga Ngezana, who will be tasked with closing down the Egyptian international’s space.
Njabulo Blom v Aliou Dieng
A classic midfield battle between two up-and-coming players. Al Ahly’s Malian Aliou Dieng is so highly-rated that he has been linked with a move to the Premier League, but he’ll still need all of his skills and nous to keep a lid on the energetic and intelligent play of Njabulo Blom in the heart of the Amakhosi’s ‘engine room’.
Pitso Mosimane v Kaizer Chiefs record
Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane has come up against Kaizer Chiefs 18 times in his managerial career: ‘Jingles’ has seen his teams triumph seven times, suffer five defeats and record six draws.
His most recent clash against the Amakhosi came in his latter time as Mamelodi Sundowns coach, claiming a 1-0 away win at Orlando Stadium in August of last year in the DStv Premiership’s ‘bio-bubble’ end to the 2019-20 season.
Mosimane only faced Chiefs in one cup final: the 2015-16 Telkom Knockout, which saw ‘Downs claim a 3-1 win at Moses Mabhida Stadium, ending a run of eight cup final wins for the Amakhosi over their Tshwane counterparts which stretched back all the way to 1992.
WORDS FROM THE CAMPS
Ahly football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz:
“Ahly players are training well, and we are highly motivated to return to Cairo with the trophy to please our supporters.
“We respect Kaizer Chiefs, and we refuse any kind of minimising their effort. Kaizer Chiefs are a big team, as they reached the Champions League final after beating a big team like Morocco’s Wydad in the semifinals and they are motivated to win their first ever Champions League trophy.
“There are no constants in football, as names and history don’t make titles, so we have to play the game seriously to win the trophy.”
Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Njabulo Blom:
"I am so excited, but it was not easy. We didn’t start very well in the group stages, because we won some games and lost some games.
“But as a team we told ourselves we will keep on going and grinding and working and keep on believing. Us being here in the final is our hard work as a team and it’s god’s grace.
“We have prepared well as a team and we will go there and give our best. We will try win the trophy, but we won’t underestimate Al Ahly because we know that they are a very experienced team. They are a very good team.”
DID YOU KNOW?
- In head-to-head stats, Ahly and Chiefs have met in African competition just once before: the 2002 CAF Super Cup, which ended 4-1 in favour of the Egyptian giants. The Amakhosi’s caretaker coach Arthur Zwane played in that match.
- Chiefs’ debut appearance in the CAF Champions League final comes almost 20 years after their first continental competition final: the Soweto side defeated Angola’s Inter de Luanda 2-1 on aggregate across two legs of the 2001 Africa Cup Winners’ Cup final (now defunct and replaced by the CAF Confederation Cup).
- Al Ahly have won nine of their previous 13 CAF Champions League finals. Their four defeats came against Asante Kotoko (Ghana, 1983), Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia, 2007), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco, 2017) and Esperance de Tunis (Tunisia, 2018).
- Al Ahly have twice beaten South African clubs in the CAF Champions League final: Mamelodi Sundowns 4-1 on aggregate in 2001 and Orlando Pirates 3-1 on aggregate in 2013.