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2018 African Nations Championship Qualifiers

Ahly vs Esperance –A Clash of Renewed Club Rivalry

Al Ahly and Esperance battle it out for supremacy in the Total CAF Champions League clash.

Friday will be the day, one that will see the continent’s very best sides in the north battle for supremacy.

The Total CAF Champions League is the staked prize – a gong both sides have splashed the cash to secure.

When the balloting was made and teams pitted, there was already euphoria in pool A. Al Ahly and Esperance du Tunis pitted in a single group is sure to draw up the numbers and those who booked tickets beforehand are by now in agitation for the cracking duel.

The game has all the hallmark of a fiery North African club derby –the loathing between opposition supporters and fanfare all packed in.

The Tunisians were reluctant sellers in this transfer window. Though they let go few players in a slight squad overhaul but made sure of recruitments to add depth all in a show of ambition for this year’s Champions League. Interestingly, the two-time tournament winners are up against a familiar foe in Al Ahly Sporting Club, the record 40-time Egyptian premier league holders, the same outfit they lost to in the previous edition of the champions league.

The Red Devils of Cairo ran out 4-3 victors on aggregate courtesy of a 2-1 win in the first-leg in the Tunisian capital.

Memories of that agonizing quarter-final defeat will come fresh. But by a show of strength of character, Esperance will hope last season’s loss spur will them to an edge over their bitter rivals whose attacking front-line send shivers down spines of even the most resolute of defenses.

Ahly went on to march to the finals finishing second best to Morocco’s surprise-makers and defending champions Wydad Casablanca.

Going a step further this time to grab the title that has eluded them the last five years will be a mark of achievement for former Sunderland and French-born gaffer Patrice Cateron, who led Phoenix Rising to 5th place in the Western Conference of the American second tier.

So will the Cairo-based giants rise up to the billing again in the face of a solid opponent?

Being one of the notable moneybags in the North, they have the charisma to charm different quality players.

The return of 21-year-old playmaker Nasser Maher on loan from Smouha FC and the registration of Egypt U-20 sensation Akram Tawfik in the CAF Champions League is a statement intended to show how good a production line they boast of.

Photo: Fans of both sides will be going bonkers again

Photo: Fans of both sides will be going bonkers again

The pair joins Moamen Zakaria and Salif Coulibaly who switched to Ahly from Saudi’s Ahli Jeddah and DR Congo’s TP Mazembe this past July.

There is Walid Azaro –the hottest striker to emerge from the North last term. He holds the belt for the foreigner with the most goals in the Egyptian league. Little wonder why the Moroccan was subject of a $11.7 million bid from a club in the cash-wielding Chinese Super League.

Sanctioning the deal would have seen Ahly register huge gains finance-wise considering the €1.4m they acquired him for from Difaa El Jadida in the summer of 2017.

His current price tag is pegged at €2.8m, a record in itself for a player plying his trade in North Africa, and this will quadruple by the next transfer window.

Ahly pulled the plug off Walid’s China move for a reason –to help get them the Champions League accolade with his goals.

The 23-year-old is already displaying flashes of last season’s form by scoring twice in The Red Devils’ recent league outing.

Ahly goes to the clash armed with a competitive spirit, given the Tunisian league is yet to start and that Esperance are a little devoid of form.

A victory guarantees them sharing of the log’s table-top with Esperance whom they trail by three points, amassing a total seven in four games as they occupy the second slot.

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