Mamelodi Sundowns lucky to lose by only one goal in Morocco

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Mamelodi Sundowns lost 2-1 away to Wydad Casablanca Friday in a CAF Champions League semi-final first leg, but the result could have been much worse for the South African club.

Midfielder Themba Zwane headed against his post in a botched attempt to clear a cross eight minutes from time at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat.

In stoppage time, Nigeria-born Wydad substitute Gabriel Okechukwu failed to connect with the ball inside the box after being gifted a clearcut chance by a Tebogo Langerman blunder.

The result was predictable -- the clubs have met seven times in three seasons and six of the matches have resulted in one-goal winning margins for the home side. The other was drawn.

Sundowns and Wydad clash again next Saturday near Pretoria with the South Africans marginal favourites to reach a second final having scored a potentially crucial away goal.

It was the first Sundowns goal in four clashes with Wydad in Morocco and it took the Pretoria outfit 311 minutes to finally find the net.

Veteran right-back Anele Ngcongca, who formerly played in France and Belgium, was the unlikely scorer four minutes before half-time to cancel a Salaheddine Saidi goal.

Instead of occupying a defensive position when his club were awarded a corner in case Wydad counterattacked, he positioned himself at the far post in the Moroccan box.

Silenced crowd                  

Moroccan goalkeeper Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti could only parry the set-piece and Ngcongca dived to nod an equaliser that silenced a 40,000-plus crowd in the Moroccan capital.

Saidi put Wydad, who succeeded Sundowns as African champions in 2017, ahead on 26 minutes by slipping unmarked into the box and unleashing a rising shot over goalkeeper Denis Onyango.

Ugandan Onyango then thwarted Nigerian Michael Babatunde and Ismail el Haddad with brilliant saves as Wydad threatened to go further ahead.

Onyango must shoulder some of the blame, though, for the goal that gave Wydad the lead for a second time just two minutes after half-time.

He failed to hold a low shot from El Haddad and Badie Aouk had the simple task of tapping the ball into the net from close range.

A blow for Wydad was the second-half yellow card shown to Mohammed Nahiri, a left-back but the leading scorer for his club in Africa this season with five goals.

The caution rules him out of an intriguing return match, with Sundowns hoping to replicate the form that brought a stunning 5-0 home win over Al Ahly of Egypt in the quarter-finals.  

Defending champions Esperance of Tunisia host TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo Saturday in the other semi-final first leg.

When they last met in the semi-finals, Esperance triumphed 1-0 on aggregate seven years ago, and another close encounter is anticipated.