COMMENT By Ed Dove Follow on Twitter
Following an engrossing year of continental competition, Mamelodi Sundowns and SC Zamalek will contest the Caf Champions League final, with the first leg in Pretoria on Saturday.
The final will be the latest chapter in a fascinating trans-continental rivalry between Egyptian and South African sides in Africa’s premier club competition.
Downs have already bested Zamalek home and away this season—beating the Egyptian giants 2-1 in Cairo before winning 1-0 at home back at the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium.
In seeing off the five-time African champions, they became the first PSL side to win away at Egyptian opposition, although the White Knight’s semi-final first leg 4-0 demolition of Wydad Casablanca will ensure that Pitso Mosimane takes nothing for granted as he heads into one of the most decisive matches of his career.
While Egyptian sides have been significantly more successful than their South African counterparts in the history of the Caf Champions League, clubs from the two nations have met just twice before in the final.
Should Downs secure the continental crown, they would not just be writing their own history—the Brazilians have never won an African title—but they’d also be in uncharted territory for South African sides.
While one PSL side—Orlando Pirates in 1995—have clinched Africa’s finest club prize, but on the two occasions when Egyptian and South African sides have met in the final, the North Africans have won both times.
On both occasions, Ahly—the most successful side in the competition’s history with eight titles—got the win over the pride of the south.
In 2001, it was Downs themselves who were victims of the Red Devils’ might.
The Brazilians, then managed by the late, great Ted Dumitru, reached the final after ousting Angolan heavyweights Petro Atletico on penalties in the semi-final following a 2-2 aggregate draw.
They held their own in the first leg of the final, but were undone by a lethal contribution from Egypt international Khaled Bebo in the final eight minutes of the first half of the second leg.
The attacker won a penalty after being brought down in the box in the 37th minute and, after converting that, added a second before the break with a low strike from outside the area..
The 2001 showpiece was to be remembered as the Bebo final, and the hitman—who memorably scored four times in a Cairo Derby less than a year after his downing of Kabo Yellow—completed the win in the 90th minute when Ahly caught Downs on the counter.
It was a tough break for Sundowns—PSL winners in 2000—but in Bebo, Ahly boasted the kind of match-winner that the Pretorians couldn’t cope with, and in truth, they struggled to construct a coherent attacking threat in Cairo as their dreams were dashed.
12 years later, in 2013, it was Pirates’ turn to go head to head with Egyptian opponents—Ahly—in the two-legged final.
Like Downs, Bucs held their North African giants to a 1-1 draw in Soweto in the first leg, as Thabo Matlaba’s 93rd-minute effort cancelled out Mohamed Aboutrika’s 14th-minute opener.
The late goal boosted the Sea Robbers’ hopes of a second continental title, and they held their own in the second leg in Cairo, before Aboutrika again made a decisive contribution.
The Egypt legend controlled a loose ball inside the penalty area and fired beyond the late Senzo Meyiwa for his fifth goal of the tournament, before Ahmed Abdul Zaher made sure of victory with a second goal in the 78th minute.
It was a bitter disappointment for Bucs, who had won the 2011-12 PSL title, to date, their last domestic crown.
Will Downs be able to end South Africans’ miserable run against their Egyptian counterparts in Caf finals, or can Mosimane’s side stop the rot when they go toe to toe with Zamalek this weekend?