Wits bow out of the CAF Champions League
Gavin Hunt hyped it as the biggest game in BidVest Wits’ 96-year history and while his charges’ African Champions League showdown against Egyptian powerhouses Al Ahly was no football classic, the game certainly had its moments at BidVest Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Wits were participating in the Champions League for the first time this year but they were not disgraced after holding the eight-time champions to a 0-0 draw but losing the two-legged tie 1-0 on aggregate.
Wits went into this encounter knowing that they would have to take the game to Africa’s most successful club after losing the first leg 1-0 in Cairo eight days ago.
Chances were few and far between in the first half and the visitors gave Wits very little room to manoeuvre, expertly closing down the spaces whenever the hosts managed to get within sniffing distance of goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy’s area.
It was a game of cat and mouse that suited the visitors just fine but Wits kept chipping away, patiently trying to find a way past a solid rearguard marshalled by the gangling Ahmed Hegazy.
Phakamani Mahlambi’s frustrating penchant for giving away possession at the worst possible times would have been the main talking point of the first half until Wits suddenly came to life just before the halftime break.
Wits had their more illustrious counterparts fighting with their backs against the wall during those closing minutes and Al Ahly will have been relieved that they somehow managed to keep the ball out of the back of the net.
Al Ahly goalkeeper Ekramy pulled off a breathtaking save from close range when it seemed Buhle Mkhwanazi’s header was headed for the back of the net.
The Egyptians were happy to concede the resultant corner kick but it seemed Wits would finally make them for celebrating prematurely when the ball floated towards a lurking Gabadinho Mhango.
It was heartbreaking stuff and Mhango understandably had the look of a man who’d just been told his favourite cat had fallen ill.
The two teams went to the halftime break still tied at 0-0, a result that obviously suited the visitors who still led 1-0 on aggregate.
The two sides noticeably picked up the pace a notch in the second half, with Wits looking for the elusive goal they needed to get back into the two-legged tie, and with Al Ahly seemingly determined to deliver the killer blow that would put the contest beyond the hosts’ reach.
It was a tense affair and Amr Gamal had the best chance of the second half when he beat Wits goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs but then saw his shot hit the upright four minutes from time.
But Hunt can look back at this match with some degree of satisfaction as Wits put up a brave fight against a team that has dominated continental football for many moons.
Wits have often been criticised for not taking continental competition as seriously as they should in the past but after Sunday’s showing, it would be difficult for anyone to argue that they did not lay it on the line against a pedigreed competitor.
Al Ahly have now advanced to the expanded Champions League group where 16 teams will be divided into four groups of four.
In the only other Caf Confederation Cup showdown game on Sunday‚ SuperSport United hammered Al Ahly Shendi 4-0 (6-3 on aggregate) in a thrilling clash at the Lucas Moripe Stadium. - TMG Digital