Zamalek lose 5-2 to Wydad in Morocco but reach final after Champions League drama
Zamalek Sporting Club's players celebrate after scoring a goal during the CAF Champions League semi-final between Wydad Athletic Club and Zamalek Sporting Club on September 24, 2016, in Rabat. FADEL SENNA / AFP
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Party-pooper Stanley Ohawuchi scored a decisive goal nine minutes from time as Egypt's Zamalek reached their first African Champions League final in 14 years despite losing 5-2 at Morocco's brave Wydad Casablanca on Saturday following unexpected drama.
It should have been a walk in the park after Zamalek claimed a 4-0 win in the first leg in Alexandria but they appeared a shadow of the side which secured such a comprehensive victory, with Wydad outplaying them in every aspect of the game.
Ismail El Haddad scored a goal and created two others for Liberian forward William Jebor as Wydad led 3-1 at halftime, with Zamalek originally breathing a sigh of relief after striker Bassem Morsi pulled one back when the score was still 2-0.
Zamalek's away goal left Wydad with an uphill climb in the second period but they rose to the occasion with another commanding display after the break, with Nguessi Ondama scoring twice to put his side within touching distance of a historic comeback that never happened in the African Champions League semi final.
However, on-loan Nigerian forward Ohawuchi, who set up Morsi for the first goal, ensured Zamalek would not endure a disastrous night with a late goal that kept alive the Cairo giants' hopes of winning the prestigious competition for the first time since they lifted the last of their five trophies in 2002.
Zamalek set up a meeting with South Africa's Sundowns, who beat them twice in the group stage and reached the final after beating Zambia's ZESCO United 2-0 earlier in the day for a 3-2 aggregate victory.
French coach Sebastien Desabre and Moroccan Mohamed Soheil, who were both in charge of Wydad following the sacking of John Toshack after the first-leg humiliation, made several changes to the team's starting line-up and the moves looked to have immediately paid off.
Early raids down both flanks unsettled a shaky Zamalek defence which was hardly aided by three central midfielders, with the hosts making the most of their aerial prowess to go 2-0 up inside the opening 20 minutes.
Zamalek's right-back Ahmed Tawfik was robbed by El Haddad after 12 minutes and the impressive winger raced towards the byline and skipped past a challenger before crossing for Jebor to rise unmarked and emphatically head home.
El Haddad then turned scorer seven minutes later with another free header after nipping in between two defenders after a cross was floated from the right, forcing some nerve-jangling minutes as Zamalek contemplated the unthinkable.
However, Morsi finished off a fine move at the other end in the 35th minute to stun the ecstatic home crowd and ease Zamalek's nerves.
Ohawuchi, who made his first start after joining from Wadi Degla, gathered a long ball on the right and outpaced his challenger before sending in a cross that found the prolific Morsi, who chested the ball home.
But Jebor revived Wydad's hopes on the stroke of halftime when he converted a low cross from the lively El Haddad as Zamalek's porous defence was once again caught napping.
Zamalek unraveled disastrously early in the second half as Wydad poured forward en masse, scoring twice as the home supporters cranked up the decibel levels with their side close to achieving the unthinkable.
Substitute Mohamed Ounajem found Ondama, who was left unmarked, to side foot home from inside the area past hapless keeper Ahmed El-Shennawi before converting a dubious penalty awarded for an apparent handball on Ali Gabr to make it 5-1 with more than 25 minutes remaining before the end.
Just when it looked as though Wydad would add a sixth, Ohawuchi ruined a looming party when he was fed by substitute playmaker Ayman Hefni inside the area, superbly cut inside his marker and fired home to deal a killer blow to the hopes of the Moroccans as Zamalek scraped through by the skin of their teeth.