Red Castle, Brazilians set for thrilling clash

Red Castle, Brazilians set for thrilling clash
Ismail El Haddad of Wydad challenged by Anele Ngcongca of Sundowns during the 2018/19 CAF Champions League football match between Sundowns and Wydad Casablanca at Lucas Moripe Stadium, Pretoria on 04 May 2019 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

by Graeme Jackson

Friday May 12, 2023. 15:00

Wydad Casablanca and Mamelodi Sundowns are set for a thrilling clash when they meet in the semifinal of the CAF Champions League, with the first-leg match set for Stade Mohamed V on Saturday night, kick-off at 21:00 CAT.

Wydad earned their place in the final four by the narrowest of margins, defeating Simba SC of Tanzania 4-3 on penalties after the teams had drawn 1-1 on aggregate across the two legs of their quarterfinal.

The Red Castle are the reigning African champions and making an appearance in the semifinals of the CAFCL for the seventh time in the last eight editions of the tournament, underlining how consistent they have been in the continent’s most demanding club competition.

Yet they come into this clash with some uncertainty surrounding them, after the resignation of coach Juan Carlos Garrido last week.

The Spanish tactician has been replaced by Belgian Sven Vandenbroeck, who was Hugo Broos’ assistant when Cameroon won the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, and had also worked with Zambia, Simba and Wydad’s local rivals AS FAR.

“I’m proud to be here, to wear a WAC jersey,” said Vandenbroeck. “For the end of the season, we need everyone to support us. Be there for every match, follow us, support us and we will do what is necessary.”

Sundowns, meanwhile, claimed an emphatic qualification for the semis by crushing Algeria’s CR Belouizdad 6-2 on aggregate in the previous round.

The Brazilians, with their domestic duties effective wrapped up (they have long since secured a sixth successive league title and have just one more match to play), can focus all their energies on winning a second continental crown – though coach Rulani Mokwena is naturally wary of the threat posed by Wydad.

“The profile of the team before the new coach came was that they had good players, aggressive wing players and aggressive possibility to threaten on the counter attack,” said the Sundowns boss.

“There’s small adaptation with the model of play because of the new coach from a defensive perspective.

“On the pressing, they look a little bit higher and there’s a bit more emphasis on build-up which looks more with [Houcine] Benayada’s influence. But we have to just continue doing the work and profile.”

In head-to-head stats, Wydad and Sundowns have been regular combatants in the Champions League since 2017, meeting no less than 10 times. The Red Castle have claimed four wins compared to three for the Brazilians, while three matches have been drawn.

The teams last met in the 2019-20 group stage, with Sundowns taking four points off Wydad thanks to a 0-0 draw in Casablanca and 1-0 win in Tshwane.

Ghanaian referee Daniel Nii Laryea will take charge of the match in Casablanca. The teams will meet for the return game at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane on Saturday 20 May, with the aggregate winners advancing to the final to face either Al Ahly or Esperance de Tunis.

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