The boys have been separated from the men and the journey towards crowning the TotalEnergies CAF Champions League winners of the 2021-22 season takes a new and intensive turn when they finals roll off this weekend.
Defending champions Al Ahly take on Algerian side ES Setif while two-time champions Wydad Club Athletic will be up against Petro de Luanda.
CAFOnline takes a look at the semi-final journey and what to expect.
Petro de Luanda vs Wydad Athletic Club
This will be a rematch of the last group stage meeting when the Moroccan giants thrashed Petro 5-1 to confirm their place on top of the group. But as they meet again less than two months after their previous duel, dynamics will be different.
Petro start the two-legged semi at home and will look for the same inspiration that guided them to a 2-1 win when they met in the first leg of the group phases. It was the first win Petro had over Wydad.
Overall in six meetings, Wydad has been the better side, winning four, losing once and drawing once. They have won once in Luanda, their 1-0 victory in last season’s Champions League.
Wydad will look towards their history in the Champions League and seek for better tidings. Though they have reached the semis six times in the last seven seasons, they have gone on to the final only twice, winning in 2017 and losing in the 2018-19 season.
Petro who eliminated pre-tournament favourites Mamelodi Sundowns in the quarter finals will meanwhile look to maximise on their home advantage and earn a favourable result ahead of the trip to Casablanca for the return tie next weekend.
Players to watch
Tiago Azulao, Petro de Luanda
The Brazilian has been Petros’s weapon throughout the season and his offensive prowess and leadership on the pitch will be a huge pillar for the Angolans to hold on as they seek a historic place in the final.
Azulao is currently the top scorer in the Champions League with six goals, including his home and away strikes against Sundowns in the quarters.
Yahya Jabrane, Wydad Athletic Club
The midfielder has been a cog for the Wydad side especially offensively as he offers the balance for the team, looking up their style of play building from the back and moving forward.
He has three goals to his name and his presence is once again expected to be of importance for the Moroccans especially as they need a crucial away goal to keep their dreams of a third title alive.
Al Ahly vs ES Setif
Title-holders Al Ahly of Egypt haven’t had the most spectacular run in the Champions League this season, but have nonetheless got the job done in their bid to win a historic third consecutive title.
They finished second in their group and squeezed through into the quarters with a 3-2 aggregate win over Raja Club Athletic.
AHly have a good record playing the semis, as they have won 11 of their 12 matches in the last four stage. Their only semi-final blemis was in the 2010 season when they were defeated by Tunisia’s Esperance.
This will be the fourth continental meeting between the two sides and Setif boats of a slight edge, having won two and drawn one of those games while Ahly have won once.
Their last meeting was in the 2018 season at this same stage of the competition, with Ahly edging out a close 3-2 aggregate victory, progressing to the final where they lost to Esperance.
In that match, Ahly won the first leg 2-0 in Cairo with goals from Walid Soliman and Eslam Mohareb while in the return tie Setif won 2-1, their goals scored by Mohamed Islam Bakir and Houssam Eddine Ghacha. Soliman scored Ahly’s important away goal.
No club are better equipped to deal with semi-final pressure than Ahly, who have won 13 of 24 penultimate-stage matches, drawn seven and lost just four.
Setif are meanwhile looking to upset the odds especially since the arrival of their new coach Darko Novic. Novic faced Ahly in the 2007 season as he was an assistant coach Libyan club Al Ittihad when they lost against Ahly, also in the semis.
Novic is the third coach used by two-time African champions Setif this season after Tunisian Nabil Kouki, axed following a group loss to AmaZulu in South Africa, and Algerian caretaker Redha Bendris.
Players to watch:
Mohamed Sherif, Al Ahly – Sherif has three goals to his name this season and though he didn’t score in the quarter final victory over Raja, his presence in the Red Devils’ forward line has always given them an edge with his mobility and physicality.
In a game where they need all the goals they can get in the first leg, Sherif will be a vital piece of Pitso Mosimane’s jigsaw puzzle.
Riad Benayad, ES Setif – Setif’s number nine Benayad is also on three goals so far in the competition, but his goals have been hugely important for the club seeking a third Champions League title.
His partnership upfront with Abdelmoumene Djabou will be key for the Algerians against a very tough Ahly defense.