Can Esperance End Their 7-year Champions League Title Search to Conquer Al Ahly in Africa Supremacy Battle?
Coming out of the shadows of a giant requires a dose of bravery – a path Tunisia’s richest club Esperance is more than willing to tread. The giant here, from whose claws they wish to be free, is Egypt’s Al Ahly whom they’ve had the unfortunate fate of meeting a record 18 times in the CAF Champions League alone.
Both teams have agreed it will be an almost impossible task to win both games, but it’s undoubtedly one worth fighting for until the final breath.
It will be the Red Devil’s 12th CAF Champions League final as they hunt for their ninth title. Esperance, on the other hand, has been African champions twice before despite reaching the finals six times.
The two African football giants have previously met a record 18 times in the CAF Champions League, with Al Ahly continuously dominating the fixture.
The Egyptians have won seven of their previous clashes with Esperance, losing just thrice, while eight encounters have ended in stalemates.
Interestingly the two sides already met in this year’s group stages with Al Ahly taking the upper hand. Al Ahly won the first leg 1-0 in Tunisia before holding them to a goalless draw in Egypt.
Al Ahly board member Khaled Mortagy however insists the team has to put the past fixtures behind them if they are to win this year’s finals.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“It’s a tough game. Whether we have played Esperance two times, three times or we haven’t played them at all.”[/perfectpullquote]
“We have to forget about the past and what we need to focus on is this match and this trophy.”
“The final match is always a tough one whether you are playing against Tunisians, against Angolans…” he added.
Al Ahly will be boasted by the return of their top scorer Walid Azarou who picked up an injury in the semifinal against Algeria’s Entente Sétif.
They will also benefit from the return of Islam Mohareb, goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawy and right-back Ahmed Fathi who have returned to full fitness in time for the finals.
For Esperance, the thought of losing again to their rivals at home is almost inconceivable. They already lost to the Red Devils in the home legs of the 2012 final and the 2017 quarter-final, and again in the group stage this year.
However, Esperance players and fans have vowed this round year be different. While speaking to BBC sport, Esperance’s London-born defender Ayman Ben Mohamed promises they will go to Cairo with a plan.
“If you see last year (in the quarter-final against Al Ahly), we were 2-2 in Egypt and still were beaten here, so I think we need to go for it there and score as much as we can to make the game here in Tunisia more comfortable for us.”
To do that, they will have to fix their defense to avoid what happened in the semifinals. They lost the first leg to underdogs Primeiro de Agosto and again went further behind at the beginning of the first leg.
They might have managed to produce a miraculous comeback to reach the final, but their defensive line will have to be compact if they are to stand a chance.
All eyes now turn to the Borg El Arab Stadium on Friday 2 November and a week later to the Stade Olympique de Rades on Friday 9 November to see who comes out on top after the two fixtures.
Interesting Match fact.
Anice Badri (Esperance) and Walid Azaro (Al Ahly) will be competing to be this year’s top scorer in the CAF Champions League.
Badri is the current top scorer (along with two other players no longer in contention) with seven goals, while Azaro is just one back on six. With 180 minutes still to play, both will have time to stake their claim.
Probable Al-Ahly XI:
El-Shennawy, Fathy, Ayman Ashraf, Saad Samir, Coulibaly, Ashour, Al-Sulaya, Mohareb, Soliman, Marwan Mohsen, Azarou.
Probable Esperance XI:
Jridi, Derbali, Chemmam, Dhaouadi, Kom, Ben Mohamed, F Coulibaly, Chalali, Belaili, Badri, Khenissi.