Brilliant penalties enabled Zamalek Sporting Club of Egypt to win the CAF Confederation Cup final near Alexandria Monday and end a 16-year African trophy drought.
Mahmoud Alaa converted a 55th-minute VAR spot-kick to give Zamalek a 1-0 second-leg win over Renaissance Sportive Berkane of Morocco and leave the teams tied at 1-1 on aggregate.
With no extra-time in CAF club matches, the final went to a shootout and Zamalek converted all five penalties to win 5-3 before a near-capacity crowd in the 86,000-seat stadium.
The regular-time penalty and those in the shootout were all expertly taken, with their power and placement giving Berkane goalkeeper Abdelali Mhamdi no chance.
Success came as a massive relief to the Cairo-based club, who play some fixtures at the Borg El Arab Stadium almost 200 kilometres (114 miles) north-west of the capital for security reasons.
After winning nine CAF titles between 1984 and 2003, Zamalek failed to add another until the victory over Berkane in a match that kicked off late Sunday and stretched into Monday.
There was a mix of relief and joy for the predominantly Zamalek-supporting crowd after the shootout as they became the third most successful club in CAF competitions with 10 titles.
Al Ahly, Cairo neighbours of Zamalek and their greatest rivals for more than a century, have won 19 African titles and TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo 11.
It was the fourth time in 16 finals that a shootout decided the outcome with Hearts of Oak of Ghana, Stade Malien of Mali and MAS Fes of Morocco winning finals on penalties.
Second Swiss Winner
Zamalek coach and former Tottenham Hotspur manager Christian Gross became the second Swiss handler to lift the Confederation Cup after Michel Decastel in 2007 with a Tunisian club.
The second leg result in Alexandria could have been different had Hamdi Laachir not squandered a clearcut early chance for Berkane, blazing over from close range.
Soon after, Zamalek came close to cancelling the 1-0 lead the Moroccans took into the return match when a Youssef ‘Obama’ Ibrahim lob beat the goalkeeper but went over the bar.
The Ethiopian referee initially ignored Zamalek penalty appeals early in the second half, but was persuaded by players to review a goalmouth incident and ruled that Najji Larbi handled.
Alaa blasted the penalty into the net, setting up a tense second half with Berkane sensing that if they scored an away goal, they would almost certainly win their first CAF final.
But an experienced Zamalek defence, backed by 31-year-old goalkeeper Mahmoud ‘Gennesh’ Abdel Rahim, held firm to force the penalty shootout.
Substitute Khalid Boutaib scored from the first spot-kick for Zamalek, and then Laachir fired embarrassingly wide to immediately put Berkane on the back foot.
It proved a crucial miss as Alaa, Abdallah Gomaa, Youssef Ibrahim, and substitute Ayman Sayed scored for the Egyptian White Knights to finally end their African title jinx.
Success for Zamalek confirmed the North African dominance of the Confederation Cup — the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League — with 11 winning clubs coming from the region.