Sundowns, Wydad build slender semi-final leads at homeSun, 29 Oct 2023 21:52:11 GMT

The African Football League semi-finals are balanced on a knife edge after Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco built 1-0 first-leg leads at home on Sunday.A snap long-range shot by Thapelo Maseko on 52 minutes that took goalkeeper Mohamed el Shenawy by surprise brought Sundowns victory over Al Ahly of Egypt in Pretoria.Hicham Boussefiane was the match-winner in Casablanca against Esperance of Tunisia with his cross eluding goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia after 58 minutes and landing in the corner of the net.The return matches in the inaugural edition are scheduled for Rades and Cairo on Wednesday with everything to play for as the four teams chase a four million dollar first prize.Unlike Europe, who scrapped the away-goal rule in club competitions from the 2021-2022 season, Africa continues to use it, adding to the intrigue ahead of the return matches.When Sundowns and Ahly clashed at the CAF Champions League group stage last March in Pretoria, the South Africans triumphed 5-2.But there was little chance of a repeat scoreline as Ahly restricted Sundowns to just a few scoring chances in the opening half.Poor control robbed captain Themba Zwane of a close-range shooting chance and El Shenawy made a spectacular one-hand save to push away a Maseko header.When Ahly surrendered possession cheaply soon after half-time, Maseko turned sharply and scored with a shot into the corner from outside the box.- Penalty appeal – A Teboho Mokoena header rebounded off the crossbar in added time after Ahly had a penalty appeal rejected when former Sundowns star Percy Tau fell following a challenge.Both coaches were relatively satisfied after the latest episode in one of the great recent African club rivalries.”It is half-time and we are leading. I am happy with that situation,” said Rulani Mokwena of Sundowns.Ahly coach Marcel Koller said: “Sundowns’ goal came from our mistake and I thought we should have had a penalty. We can overturn the deficit in Cairo.” A passionate near-capacity crowd in a 60,000-seat Casablanca stadium saw Wydad dominate for long periods before deservedly breaking the deadlock.Recalled Ben Cherifia captained the Tunis outfit after Amanallah Memmich, 19, featured in both legs of a quarter-finals victory over TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo.But the veteran shot-stopper appeared to be distracted by an inrushing Moroccan when Boussefiane curled the ball into the six-yard box, and Wydad were ahead. The home side almost doubled their lead just four minutes later as a Charki el Bahri header beat Ben Cherifia only to strike the crossbar and rebound to safety.When Esperance created a chance on 70 minutes, Ghaith Ouahabi struck the ball timidly and the goal attempt was comfortably saved by Youssef el Motie.Wydad are hoping to avoid a hat-trick of disappointments in midweek after suffering losses to Esperance in the 2011 and 2019 CAF Champions League finals.