AFL semifinal clash: Sundowns hold narrow lead over Al Ahly

In a scintillating African Football League semifinal clash, Mamelodi Sundowns eked out a 1-0 victory against the formidable Al Ahly on their home turf in the first leg.

Thapelo Maseko’s audacious long-range strike, catching goalkeeper Mohamed el Shenawy off guard at the 52nd minute, secured the critical win for the South African side in Pretoria.

With the eagerly anticipated return leg set to take place at the Cairo International Stadium this Wednesday, the tie remains tantalizingly poised. A substantial $4-million first prize is up for grabs, adding even more intensity to the contest. Unlike Europe, which abolished the away-goal rule in club competitions starting from the 2021-2022 season, Africa still utilize it, injecting extra drama into the forthcoming encounter.

In past clashes on Egyptian soil, Sundowns have tallied one win, one draw, and one loss against Al Ahly, explaining coach Rhulani Mokwena’s optimism regarding their chances of scoring in the second leg.

Khuliso Mudau, the confident right-back for the Masandawana, believes in another strong showing as they aim for a spot in the final. Mudau remarked, “Credit must go to the guys, we worked very hard to get a goal at home because we know it won’t be easy in Egypt. If they had scored an away goal, it was going to be even more difficult. To park a bus is not an option, but we need to make sure our defence is good because they will attack, so we have to manage the pressure very well.”

Al Ahly’s coach Marcel Kohler, despite a disappointing first-leg defeat, remains resolute about his team’s chances in the AFL final. He is banking on a spirited turnaround on home soil in Cairo, saying, “We have a chance to qualify, and I believe the Cairo match will decide everything. We will make every effort to win, especially since our fans will support us.”

Kohler acknowledged Al Ahly’s strong first-half defensive performance but highlighted a lapse in concentration that led to their second-half concession. In the nerve-wracking atmosphere of Cairo, he knows that Al Ahly must elevate their game and find the breakthroughs needed to secure a spot in the inaugural AFL final.

Mokwena recognizes the challenge that Al Ahly pose. Despite holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg, he is well aware of Al Ahly’s potential to strike back, especially in their Cairo stronghold. He believes that the outcome of this matchup is far from certain and anticipates a riveting encounter in Cairo.

Sundowns face the challenge of playing without their injured strikers, Peter Shalulile and Lucas Ribeiro. However, Mokwena has a tactical plan, utilizing various attackers in unconventional positions, ensuring that his side remains a potent force in the competition. Whether it’s Themba Zwane as a false No. 9 or pushing Thapelo Maseko or Gaston Sirino higher up, Sundowns aim to keep the goals coming.

With the stage set for a thrilling showdown in Cairo, football fans are in for a gripping encounter as Mamelodi Sundowns and Al Ahly battle it out for a place in the AFL final.