Bencharki haunts Raja as Zamalek takes first leg advantage

Raja Zamalek 6

Moroccan Achraf Bencharki returned to the Complexe Mohamed V in Casablanca to score the lone goal as Egyptian giants Zamalek beat recently crowned Botola Pro Champions Raja Club Athletic 1-0 in the first leg of the Total CAF Champions League semi-final on Sunday.

The former Wydad Club Athletic player headed home the single goal in the match to give the White Knights a slight advantage heading into next weekend’s return leg tie set for Cairo International Stadium next Saturday.

This was Zamalek’s second win over Raja in three CAF Club Competition matches.

For Raja, this was only their second defeat in 23 games at home in the Champions League. It was a complete opposite for Zamalek who came to the tie with a poor away record, having only won one in 13.

Zamalek’s win crowned a good outing for Egyptian clubs in Casablanca with Al Ahly having picked a 2-0 win over Wydad in the first semi-final earlier on Saturday.

Bencharki got Zamalek ahead with a header at the backpost in the 18th minute, rising above Abdellah Madkour to nod in from an Ahmed ‘Zizo’ Mostafa cross on the right.

The visitors had looked the hungrier of the two sides, though there were only a pair of scoring opportunities before the goal. Raja had the first knock on the door after nine minutes through a training ground routine freekick from the right.

raja Zamalek 5

Skipper Mohsine Moutaouali teed up Abdelilah Hafidi, but his first time shot flew straight to the keeper.

Two minutes later, Zamalek had their response, Bencharki showing his hunger with a snap shot from the edge of the box which also rolled straight into the keeper’s path.

It was a see-saw affair between the two sides, Zamalek keeping to their structure and moving the ball around the park while the Moroccan champions tried to push for an equalizer.

Three minutes to the break, Raja came close, Soufiane Rahimi forcing Zamalek keeper Mohamed Abou Gabal to a brilliant save with a well angled header, the shot stopper stretching full length to his left to parry away the effort for a corner.

Raja Zamalek 2

In the second half, Raja came back spirited to try get back into the game and probably go for the winner, but Zamalek defended astutely.

In the 66th minute, the hosts had a flurry of chances.

Badr Benoun’s rifling freekick went against the wall and the rebound fell on Fabrice Ngoma. However, the midfielder’s effort also struck a flurry of bodies inside the box and when the ball was recycled again to him, his flying shot was parried away by the keeper.

Late in the game, Rahimi had a pair of chances that went wasted. His first effort at the stroke of fulltime was deflected for a corner after stretching in to direct a headed ball to goal. His second opportunity was better when he was picked out a by a through ball on the right but he blasted the ball over.

The home side threw everything in the final minutes of the game, but Zamalek's astute defending saw them preserve the slim lead ahead of the return tie.

Post match quotes

Jamal Sellami (Coach, Raja)

I believe we deserved a draw at least. I thank my players because they gave their all despite the difficult situation we had. I cannot blame any player today and we were the better side all over the game. We still have a chance in the return leg in Cairo and I believe we are still capable of reaching the final.

Jaime Pacheco (Coach, Zamalek)

My players played to my instructions and we achieved a good result away from home. We felt exhausted because we had many domestic games in a short time, but we were brave enough to have this game tonight. Nothing is won yet, we have to remain focused in the return leg and achieve our target by going through to the final.