Merili ends goal drought to hand USM victory in Caf Confed Cup final first leg

You are currently viewing Merili ends goal drought to hand USM victory in Caf Confed Cup final first leg
  • Post published:May 29, 2023

Islam Merili ended his 984-minute goal drought in the Caf Confederation Cup to hand USM Alger a 2-1 victory over Young Africans of Tanzania in the first leg final on Sunday.

After 84 minutes, he scored the game-winning goal in front of 60,000 rain-soaked fans at the Benjamin Mpaka Stadium in the port city of Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean.

Merili moved into the box without being stopped and side-footed a pass past Malian custodian Djigui Diarra into the net. This gave USM a lead in the overall score before the return match on June 3.

His only other Confederations Cup goal this season came in the last minute of a play-off win over Cape Town City of South Africa last November.

Young Africans thought they had saved a tie when their star player, Fiston Mayele, scored an equaliser just two minutes before Merili scored.

When Mayele got the ball just inside the box, he didn’t seem like an immediate threat. But he hit a half-volley past custodian Oussama Benbot and into the near corner of the net.

With his seventh goal of the season, the forward from the Democratic Republic of Congo tied for the most goals in the African UEFA Europa League.

If Mayele scores in the second leg, he will win the Golden Boot, since South African club Marumo Gallants’ Ranga Chivaviro’s run ended in the semi-finals.

In the 32nd minute, Aymen Mahious rushed forward, got in front of two defenders, and headed a Brahim Benzaza free kick into the back of the net at the far post to give USM the lead.

It was his fourth goal in Africa this season, but it was the first one he scored in the knockout stages. He hadn’t scored in the quarterfinals or semifinals, which were played over two legs.

“My players rose to the occasion against a tough Tanzanian team. By winning here we have achieved a significant victory,” said USM coach Abdelhak Benchikha.

“The match was difficult because of the wet conditions and our fitness levels were severely tested. We used a lot of energy.

“We have a return match to play in Algeria next Saturday and will do our best to win that one to.”

USM is only the second team to win the first leg of a Confederation Cup final away from home. In Omdurman, Sudan, 16 years ago, Tunisian club CS Sfaxien beat Al Merrikh 4–2; that was the only other team to do so.

The Algiers team is trying to become the first team from the north African country to win the trophy. Entente Setif, Mouloudia Bejaia, and JS Kabylie all lost in the finals, so the Algiers team wants to be the first to win.

History is on their side, as home teams have won 11 of the 16 previous second legs and tied four.

If USM wins the Confederation Cup, it will be the sixth straight time that a club from north Africa has been in the final.

Young Africans are trying to become only the third east African club after Gor Mahia of Kenya and Merrikh to win a CAF club competition out of 150 finals since the first one in 1964.

Photo by Backpagepix