Themba Zwane of Mamelodi Sundowns is challenged by Aliou Dieng of Al Ahly in their 2023 African Football League match at Cairo International Stadium in Egypt on Wednesday night.
Image: Mostafa Emira/BackpagePix
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Mamelodi Sundowns have reached the final of the inaugural African Football League (AFL), heroically taming Egyptian giants Al Ahly with a 0-0 second leg result in front of a hostile crowd in Cairo on Wednesday night.

After the Springboks won the 2023 Rugby World Cup by beating the All Blacks in Saturday night's final in Paris, and with the Proteas seemingly in rampant form in the Cricket World Cup in India, Sundowns are again flying the flag for South African football.

Caf president Patrice Motsepe, whose brainchild, along with Fifa president Gianni Infantino, the super-lucrative AFL is, will watch the club he owns compete in the two-legged final to be played on Sunday and November 11.

Downs — who won the first leg 1-0 at Loftus Versfeld, meaning that was the aggregate score — will meet Moroccan nemesis Wydad Athletic, who narrowly knocked them out of last season's Caf Champions League semifinals, in that final.

Wydad beat Esperance de Tunis on penalties in the earlier semifinal (1-1 aggregate).

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In the hostile cauldron of a packed Cairo International Stadium, in front of Ahly's fanatical, chanting supporters, the Brazilians rode some luck in the first half. They produced a polished, stifling defensive display in the second 45 minutes to reach their first continental final since winning the Champions League in 2016.

Downs ended the game with 10 men after substitute Junior Mendieta's 83rd-minute dismissal.

For Al Ahly, the most successful team by far in the Champions League with 11 titles, establishing a similar grip on Africa's newest continental club competition — which has the potential, given its staggering prize money, to become an even bigger tournament — will be a priority.

But, after they beat Tanzania's Simba on away goals in the quarterfinals, Downs denied Swiss coach Marcel Koller's team further progression.

The Red Devils seemed flat in the second half. Sundowns' organisational patterns also kept Ahly at bay.

As in Pretoria, the absence of key strikers Peter Shalulile and Lucas Ribeiro Costa saw Downs coach Rulani Mokwena fielding Themba Zwane as a false No 9, with first leg scorer Thapelo Maseko and Gaston Sirino the wide attackers in a front three.

Sundowns had a decent share of the possession in the first half, especially in the opening half-hour, and worked themselves into some promising attacking positions in that period but without an end product to trouble legendary Ahly keeper Mohamed El Shenawy.

At the other end the Tshwane team lived dangerously, and they were certainly a touch fortunate not to concede from three big chances to Ahly in the same 30-minute period.

In the 16th, after Ronwen Williams clattered into national teammate Percy Tau in the area, the Bafana Bafana captain dived to his left to stop Ali Maloul's penalty attempt.

But it was something of a bipolar first-half performance from Williams as he then twice spilt the ball to almost gift a goal to Ahly.

In the 24th Williams fumbled Hussein El Shahat's cross, as Abdelmounaim Boutouil's clearance ricocheted off Karaba, 3m out, onto the left crossbar.

Moments later Williams spilt the ball at the feet of Maloul — characteristically an attacking thorn from right-back — before Sundowns cleared.

The chances they conceded saw Downs retreat into a more defensive shell. But they also tightened things markedly, Williams also finding a far better level of control of his area.

Mokwena's team denied Ahly a clear chance in the second half.

Mendieta's shocking studs-up challenge on Akram Tawfik saw Downs reduced to 10 men inside the final 10 minutes, but Al Ahly could not capitalise on the advantage.


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