Penalty Power: Zamalek end 16-year African drought

With no extra-time in CAF club matches, the final went to a shootout and Zamalek converted all five penalties to win 5-3
Egypt's Zamalek player Abdallah Saleh (C) vies for the ball with Morocco's RSB Berkane player Baker el-Helali (R)
Egypt’s Zamalek player Abdallah Saleh (C) vies for the ball with Morocco’s RSB Berkane player Baker el-Helali (R) during the second leg of the CAF Confederation Cup final football match between Egypt’s Zamalek and Morocco’s RSB Berkane at Borg El Arab Stadium near Alexandria on May 26, 2019.

Brilliant penalties enabled Zamalek Sporting Club of Egypt to win the CAF Confederation Cup final near Alexandria Monday and end a 16-year African trophy drought. Mahmoud Alaa converted a 55th-minute VAR spot-kick to give Zamalek a 1-0 second-leg win over Renaissance Sportive Berkane of Morocco and leave the teams tied at 1-1 on aggregate.

With no extra-time in CAF club matches, the final went to a shootout and Zamalek converted all five penalties to win 5-3 before a near-capacity crowd in the 86,000-seat stadium. The regular-time penalty and those in the shootout were all expertly taken, with their power and placement giving Berkane goalkeeper Abdelali Mhamdi no chance.

Zamalek player Mahmoud Alaa (C) celebrates his goal with teammates after scoring against Morocco's RSB Berkane
Egypt’s Zamalek player Mahmoud Alaa (C) celebrates his goal with teammates after scoring against Morocco’s RSB Berkane during the second leg of the CAF Confederation Cup final football match between Egypt’s Zamalek and Morocco’s RSB Berkane at Borg El Arab Stadium near Alexandria on May 26, 2019.

Success came as a massive relief to the Cairo-based club, who play some fixtures at the Borg el Arab Stadium almost 200 kilometres (114 miles) north-west of the capital for security reasons. After winning nine CAF titles between 1984 and 2003, Zamalek failed to add another until the victory over Berkane in a match that kicked off late Sunday and stretched into Monday.

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There was a mix of relief and joy for the predominantly Zamalek-supporting crowd after the shootout as they became the third most successful club in CAF competitions with 10 titles. Al Ahly, Cairo neighbours of Zamalek and their greatest rivals for more than a century, have won 19 African titles and TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo 11.

It was the fourth time in 16 finals that a shootout decided the outcome with Hearts of Oak of Ghana, Stade Malien of Mali and MAS Fes of Morocco winning finals on penalties.

Zamalek players celebrate with the trophy after they won the CAF Confederation Cup final
Egypt’s Zamalek players celebrate with the trophy after they won the CAF Confederation Cup final football match between Egypt’s Zamalek and Morocco’s RSB Berkane at Borg El Arab Stadium near Alexandria on May 26, 2019.

Second Swiss winner

Zamalek coach and former Tottenham Hotspur manager Christian Gross became the second Swiss handler to lift the Confederation Cup after Michel Decastel in 2007 with Club Sportif Sfaxien. The second leg result in Alexandria could have been different had Hamdi Laachir not squandered a clearcut early chance for Berkane, blazing over from close range.

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Soon after, Zamalek came close to cancelling the 1-0 lead the Moroccans took into the return match when a Youssef ‘Obama’ Ibrahim lob beat the goalkeeper but went over the bar. The Ethiopian referee initially ignored Zamalek penalty appeals early in the second half, but was persuaded by players to review a goalmouth incident and ruled that Najji Larbi handled.

Zamalek player Samir Mohamed Ali (L) vies for the ball with Morocco's RSB Berkane player Kodjo Laba
Egypt’s Zamalek player Samir Mohamed Ali (L) vies for the ball with Morocco’s RSB Berkane player Kodjo Laba during the second leg of the CAF Confederation Cup final football match between Egypt’s Zamalek and Morocco’s RSB Berkane at Borg El Arab Stadium near Alexandria on May 26, 2019.

Alaa blasted the penalty into the net, setting up a tense second half with Berkane sensing that if they scored an away goal, they would almost certainly win their first CAF final. But an experienced Zamalek defence, backed by 31-year-old goalkeeper Mahmoud ‘Gennesh’ Abdel Rahim, held firm to force the penalty shootout.

Substitute Khalid Boutaib scored from the first spot-kick for Zamalek, then Laachir fired embarrassingly wide to immediately put Berkane on the back foot. It proved a crucial miss as Alaa, Abdallah Gomaa, Youssef Ibrahim, and substitute Ayman Sayed scored for the Egyptian White Knights to finally end their African title jinx.

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Success for Zamalek confirmed the north African dominance of the Confederation Cup with 11 winning club coming from the region.


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