A dream Cairo derby final in the CAF Champions League looks likely after Zamalek defeated hosts Raja Casablanca 1-0 at Stade Mohammed V on Sunday night.
Twenty-four hours after fellow Egyptians Al Ahly won 2-0 over Wydad Casablanca, the White Knights defeated the Green Eagles thanks to a first-half strike from Achraf Bencharki, putting themselves within touching distance of the final.
After a cagey opening period, Zamalek began to flex their attacking muscle through the likes of Ahmed Zizo, Mostafa Mohamed and Bencharki.
The White Knights made their pressure pay in the 18th minute, with Zizo skipping past a couple of challenges down the right flank before crossing to Bencharki, who steered home a header to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Zamalek controlled the tempo of the game after claiming the ascendancy, with Raja attackers such as Soufiane Rahimi and Ben Malango struggling to get a foothold and threaten the away side’s defence.
The Green Eagles finally had a good chance three minutes before the break when Rahimi got in between two markers to meet a cross and head on target, but Zamalek’s Mohamed Abou-Gabal tipped the effort away for a corner kick.
Zamalek led 1-0 at half time and should have doubled their advantage early in the second stanza, with Bencharki teeing up Youssef Ibrahim, who succeeded only in hitting an effort against a defender with the goalkeeper in no-man’s land.
As the second half progressed, Raja began to turn up the pressure, with ‘keeper Abou-Gabal forced into a couple of sharp saves, while the hosts had a strong claim for a penalty turned down when the ball struck the arm of Zamalek defender Mohamed Abdel-Ghani on 68 minutes.
The hosts continued to boss the game as the final whistle approached and almost levelled the score in injury time when Abdelilah Hafidi saw a deflected effort flash just wide of the target – much to Zamalek’s relief.
The return leg will be held at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria next Saturday, October 24. The aggregate winners will advance to meet either Al Ahly or Wydad Casablanca in the final on November 6.
Raja Casablanca 0
Zamalek (1) 1 (Bencharki 18’)
Raja: Anas Zniti, Badr Benoun, Ilias Haddad, Abdelilah Madkour, Fabrice Ngah, Omar Arjoune (Zakaria El-Wardi 71’), Luamba Ngoma (Mohamed Al Makaazi 46’), Abdelilah Hafidi, Mohsine Moutaouali (Mahmoud Benhalib 62’), Soufiane Rahimi, Ben Malango (Anas Jabroun 80’)
Zamalek: Mohamed Abou-Gabal, Ahmed Eid, Mohamed Abdel-Ghani, Mahmoud Hamdi, Abdallah Gomaa, Tarek Hamed, Eslam Gaber, Ahmed Zizo, Youssef Ibrahim (Mohamed Ounajem 85’), Achraf Bencharki, Mostafa Mohamed