Wydad claw back twice to reach CAF Champions League final
Holders Wydad Casablanca of Morocco equalised twice to draw 2-2 with Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa on Saturday, and book a second straight CAF Champions League final against Al Ahly of Egypt.
Captain Themba Zwane and later Peter Shalulile put the home team ahead in a semi-final, second leg thriller watched by a 45,000 crowd in Pretoria.
But Ayoub el Amloud cancelled out Sundowns' first goal and an own-goal by Mothobi Mvala levelled the scoreline again, and gave Wydad an ultimately decisive aggregate advantage through away goals after a goalless stalemate in the first leg.
Record 10-time champions Ahly had a much more comfortable passage to the final, defeating Esperance of Tunisia 1-0 in Cairo on Friday to complete a 4-0 aggregate triumph.
Set to make a record-extending 16th final appearance in the premier African club competition, Ahly will host the first leg on June 4 with the second leg on June 11.
The 2022 final involved a single match and a couple of goals from Zouhair el Moutaraji gave Wydad a 2-0 victory over Ahly in a match controversially staged in Casablanca.
Ahly wanted the final played at a neutral venue, but an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was unsuccessful. The drama led to two-leg finals being reinstated.
Recently-hired Belgian Sven Vandenbroeck -- the fourth coach of Wydad this season -- said the experience of his players pulled them through in pursuit of a fourth Champions League title.
- 'Experience told' -
"Sundowns were probably the better team over the two legs, but our greater experience and mental strength told," he said.
"Wydad against Ahly is going to be a beautiful final and I am hoping for the same outcome as last season.
"There is little to choose between two great teams, but I think playing at home in the second leg may give us a slight advantage."
Sundowns coach Rhulani Mokwena agreed with Vandenbroeck, saying: "The experience of Wydad was crucial -- they were smarter in some big moments.
"I am bitterly disappointed, but the compliments I received from the Wydad coach have eased the pain a little.
"You cannot buy experience -- you have to learn from sad occasions like this. I cannot say when, but Sundowns will win the Champions League."
Moroccan Mohamed Ounajem and Shalulile had the best chances of a cagey first half before the match came alive on 50 minutes at a stadium Sundowns share with the Bulls rugby team.
Wydad were dispossessed in their half and Zwane took advantage to beat goalkeeper Youssef el Motie, who stood motionless as the ball hit the net.
El Amloud crept unnoticed into the box to level on 72 minutes with a header off a Yahya Jabrane cross only for Shalulile to put Sundowns back in front via a deflected shot seven minutes later.
The tie-deciding goal came with seven minutes of regular time remaining as Mvala, attempting to clear a free-kick, headed into his own net.