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Thursday, 12 December 2019

Preview: Recent history favours Egypt's Ahly in Champions League final with Esperance

Hatem Maher , Thursday 1 Nov 2018
Al Ahly
Al Ahly SC's Ahmed Fathy in action with ES Tunis' Haythem Jouini. (REUTERS)
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If recent history is anything to go by, Ahly appear favourites to win a record-extending African Champions League crown at the expense of Tunisia's Esperance, who will be looking to lay to rest the ghosts of their duels with the Egyptian giants in an anticipated two-legged final.

Ahly, who host their North African rivals in the first leg at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium on Friday, are determined not to let another trophy slip out of their grasp following an agonising defeat by Morocco's Wydad Casablanca in last year's final.

They are aware the result of Friday's first-leg would be crucial, given that they paid the price of a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Wydad last year which left them with an uphill climb in the return leg.

Wydad won the second leg 1-0 to clinch the title and Ahly would be desperate not to leave their destiny solely hanging on their ability to remain cool in the face of relentless and vociferous chants from the die-hard supporters of North African outfits.

Esperance's passionate fans roared them on in Rades as they claimed a thrilling 4-2 comeback win over Angola's plucky side Primeiro de Agosto in the semi-final second leg for a 4-3 aggregate victory.

But even in the worst-case scenario of Ahly failing to win at home, they would still have every reason to believe they can pull off another remarkable win in Rades, home of the venue where the Red Devils' supporters fondly boast of having anecdotes.

Such optimism would be truly justified.

A last-gasp winner at the same stadium gave them their most precious Champions League title in 2006 against Tunisia's Sfaxien. They also won there in 2012 for another accolade, thanks to a 2-1 victory over Esperance.

All in all, Ahly's record of seven wins, six draws and three loses against Esperance in African competitions should be taken into account, although the Tunisians believe they have what it takes to end the hoodoo of having failed to beat the Cairo club since 2011.

"Ahly are a great club in the continent. They have much experience, but we are determined to win the title," Esperance coach Mouine Chaabani told Tunisian newspaper La Presse.

More than 50,000 supporters are likely to attend the first leg in Alexandria, with Ahly fans dreaming of a record-extending ninth triumph and the first since 2013.

"Fan attendance in the first leg will be a good boost for our players to secure the best possible result," Ahly's French coach Patrice Carteron said.

"I always consider Ahly fans as a partner in our victories. The supporters deserve the best and I promise that my team will do its best."

Apart from long-term absentees Junior Ajayi and Ali Maaloul, Ahly will have a fully-fit squad to choose from.

Ahly met Esperance twice in the group stage this year, drawing 0-0 at home and winning 1-0 in Rades.

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