Nine-man Mamelodi Sundowns force draw at African champions Wydad

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Wydad Casablanca defender Ayoub el Amloud (L) and Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Sipho Mbule clash during a CAF Champions League semi-final first leg in Morocco.
Wydad Casablanca defender Ayoub el Amloud (L) and Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Sipho Mbule clash during a CAF Champions League semi-final first leg in Morocco.

Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa forced a 0-0 CAF Champions League semi-final draw at title-holders Wydad Casablanca of Morocco on Saturday despite ending the first leg with nine men.

The visiting club were reduced to 10 men on 43 minutes following a pitch-side VAR review by the Ghanaian referee of an incident in which Neo Maema stamped on a fallen opponent.

Chilean Marco Allende, who came off the bench with 12 minutes left, was shown a red card for a studs-up tackle after another VAR check having initially receiving a yellow one.

VAR played a pivotal role in a cagey clash with a Peter Shalulile goal for Sundowns on 10 minutes awarded by the match officials, then disallowed after a review.

The outcome was not surprising given the closeness of previous matches between the clubs in Casablanca with Wydad winning four by one-goal margins while another was drawn.

Sundowns host the return match in Pretoria next Saturday and will be slight favourites to reach a third final. They finished runners-up in 2001 and triumphed 15 years later.

The first half was dominated by the rival defences with each team managing only one shot on target from five attempts.

Sundowns showed no nerves despite having to contend not only with vastly experienced opponents, but also an intimidating 45,000-plus crowd in the Stade Mohammed V.

The largely red-clad Moroccan supporters cheered and clapped every Wydad move while waving huge flags, and whistled and jeered virtually each time Sundowns gained possession.

- Esperance coach quits -

It was the second match in charge of the Casablanca outfit for Belgian Sven Vandenbroeck, the fourth coach of the team this season after Spaniard Juan Carlos Garrido was sacked last week.

Star Wydad forward Bouly Sambou, the joint leading Champions League scorer this season with seven goals, was well policed by Sundowns.

The giant Senegalese blazed over from close range early in the second half before retiring injured after being fouled by Sundowns' Moroccan defender Abdelmounaim Boutouil.

Wydad substitute Zouhair el Moutaraji had a good chance to break the deadlock soon after, but was foiled by the outstretched right leg of goalkeeper Rowen Williams.

Meanwhile, Esperance of Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul has resigned after a 3-0 home loss to Al Ahly of Egypt on Friday in the other first leg.

The 60-year-old former national team midfielder had won 20 matches, drawn eight and lost seven in his third spell as boss of the four-time African champions.

"I understand the sadness and disappointment of the fans after this difficult loss, and I apologise to them," said Maaloul in a social media post.

South African Percy Tau netted in each half before Mahmoud Kahraba completed the scoring in Rades, making Ahly firm favourites to reach the final after the return match on May 19.

Switzerland-born Ahly coach Marcel Koller insists, however, that the semi-final is far from decided.

"We cannot go into the return match at home believing we have qualified for the final. Nothing has been settled," he warned.