Zamalek follow in the footsteps of Cairo rivals Ahly to edge closer to a place in next month’s African Champions League final.
Achraf Bencharki headed home in the first half as a disciplined Zamalek side snatched a 1-0 victory over Raja in Casablanca to close in on the African Champions League final on Sunday, following in the footsteps of Cairo rivals Ahly.
The in-form Moroccan wizard, whose creativity has proved vital in Zamalek’s path towards the semis, outjumped his marker at the far post to score what proved to be the winner on 18 minutes.
He set a record in the process, becoming Zamalek’s highest-scoring foreigner in African competitions with nine goals, surpassing former Burkinabe striker Abdoulaye Cisse even though he only joined Zamalek in the summer of 2019.
Zamalek could have doubled their advantage on at least a couple of occasions after the break, with Bencharki masterminding their pacy counter attacks as Raja poured forward en masse to score an equaliser.
The visitors also survived a late onslaught to claim a crucial win as they seek to reach the final for the first time since 2016.
On Saturday, record eight-time winners Ahly defeated Raja’s rivals Wydad 2-0 at the same Mohammed V Stadium, with the Egyptian duo now looking overwhelming favourites to reach the final of Africa’s blue-riband club competition.
The second legs will take place next weekend at Cairo’s International Stadium.
Zamalek were barely troubled in the first half, with their compact midfield and rearguard restricting Raja to some tame efforts.
They relied on the pace and trickery of wingers Ahmed Zizo and Bencharki to unlock the high backline at the other end and both combined to score the opener on 18 minutes.
Zizo skipped past his challenger down the right and whipped in a cross that keeper Anas Zniti misjudged, with Bencharki leaping above Ilias Haddad to head into an empty net at the far post.
The closest Raja came to an equaliser before the break was a 42nd-minute header from Soufiane Rahimi that Zamalek keeper Mohamed Abou-Gabal pushed away.
In the second half, Zamalek had two more chances to kill off Raja’s hopes, with Bencharki chipping the ball over Zniti before crossing low for deep-lying forward Youssef Ibrahim, whose shot struck a defender with the goal gaping.
Another chip from lone striker Mostafa Mohamed over Zniti missed the target before Zamalek were pegged back in the latter stages, resorting to deep defending that allowed Raja to lay siege to their area. However, they held firm to come away with a valuable victory that put them in the driving seat for a place in the 6 November final.