A Battle of the Greats: Five Reasons Why Al Ahly Could Beat Esperance to the CAF CL Title
Five reasons why Al Ahly may emerge victorious in their encounter against Esperance du Tunis.
Al Ahly of Egypt host Tunisia’s Esperance du Tunis in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final at the Borg El Arab Stadium tonight.
The two sides will meet again on Friday, November 9 at Stades Olympique de Rades to settle the score once and for all.
In the group stage of the tournament, Ahly won 1-0 in Tunisia while it was goalless in Egypt.
Across Africa, most of the fans are divided over who will win the potentially explosive encounter.
Here are the five reasons we believe that Al Ahly will emerge victorious once the dust settles.
- Intimidating CAF successes
Al Ahly are the most successful club in CAF Competitions with 12 titles and are record winners of the Champions League, having claimed the title on eight occasions.
The Red Devils were beaten by Wydad Casablanca in last year’s final and are expected not to let it go this time round.
Indeed, they have missed the gold trophy in their cabinet for five years, having last pocketed Champions League title in 2011 when they defeated Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa.
A quick glance at their recent history suggests they are a hard nut to crack at home.
They have not lost in front of their home supporters in this year’s competition, winning six of their eight matches. Even more worrying is that they have only lost once away from home.
- Playing without pressure
Al Ahly are in a happy space at the moment‚ even if they struggled five months before the arrival of their current manager Patrice Carteron.
In their opening two group stage matches, they took only two points which prompted the management to fire Hossam al-Badri and brought in Carteron who has overseen their revival.
Since he took over, fans are loving the free-flowing‚ attacking football and have been excellent in the last eight continental matches as seen in the way they have supported the side from the stands.
The team is playing without pressure and that shows in the freedom they display on the pitch.
Contrast that with Esperance‚ who were nearly losing to Premiero De Agosto in the semi-final stage of the competition, and the anxiety in the supporters is growing.
Every game is a pressure-filled occasion and that can be stifling for players‚ who are scared to make the mistake that may cost them the game.
- A better man for man squad
If you look at the two squads on paper, there is no doubt that man for man‚ Al Ahly have a considerable edge.
The center-back positions and goalkeeper are perhaps the only areas where Esperance can match Red Devils’ quality‚ but for the rest, there is far more creativity‚ pace and skill in the Al Ahly ranks.
The understanding that exists between attacking trio of Walid Azarou, Islam Mohareb and Walid Soliman has got basics right: sharing the ball with passes, creating, getting past defenders and scoring lots of goals.
They are more dangerous than BBK trident of Anice Badri, Belaili and Khenissi who have assisted Esperance in winning matches so far in this competition.
BBK are perfect with their skill, taking defenders on with pace but their power is not expected to trouble Saad Samir and Salif Coulibaly at the back for Al Ahly.
- Incredible depth to be able to change systems against predictable Esperance
Esperance tend to be a little one-dimensional and Al Ahly coach Patrice Carteron will know exactly what he is facing tonight.
Al Ahly‚ on the other hand‚ now have an array of riches on their bench‚ let alone the starting XI‚ and that gives Carteron the chance to change the game-plan if necessary and to inject quality match-winners onto the pitch if things are not going his way.
Al Ahly can now play a number of different ways‚ bring an unpredictability that will be difficult for Esperance to counter.
- Carteron’s experience
Coach Patrice Carteron has earned a reputation for being a shrewd operator when it comes to taking pressure off the players and how he sets up his teams in high-stakes games like the North African Derby.
The 48-year-old has a considerable pedigree, having won the Champions League and two league titles with Tout Puissant Mazembe, as well as guiding Mali to third position at the Africa Cup of Nations.
At Mazembe, Carteron was well aware of the value of the club’s immense fanbase and actively sought to get the supporters onside and make the Stade Lubumbashi a fortress where visiting fans feared to tread.
Similarly, at Ahly, he realized that the key to getting the best out of the heavyweights would be to focus on some of those intangibles.
In fact, he knows better than anyone that only victory will be appreciated by the Red Devils‚ but he is a man who will be able to withstand the unbearable pressure.