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Saturday, 20 July 2019

Preview: Tense build-up as Ahly eye record-extending Champions League triumph

Hatem Maher , Thursday 8 Nov 2018
Ahly's Salif Coulibaly in action with Esperance's Taha Yassine Khenissi during the first leg of the Champions League final (Photo: Reuters)
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Views: 2646

A tense build-up overshadows Friday's anticipated clash in the second leg of the African Champions League final but Egypt's Ahly are determined to make it another glorious night in Rades, where they meet Tunisian rivals Esperance.

Boasting a proud record in Rades, the venue of their Champions League triumphs in 2006 and 2012, Ahly are confident they can protect a 3-1 first-leg lead and clinch a record-extending ninth triumph.

But they are aware they must tighten up at the back to avoid the kind of nerve-jangling moments they had to go through in the semi final second-leg against ES Setif in Algeria, where they conceded twice to lose 2-1 but still qualified with a 3-2 aggregate win.

Ahly will also have to make the most of their continental experience to deal with the expected vibrant atmosphere in Rades, especially given the refereeing controversies that engulfed last week's first-leg at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium.

Walid Soliman converted two dubious penalties either side of the interval to give Ahly a comfortable advantage but Algerian referee Mehdi Abid Charef took center stage for the wrong reasons.

He upheld his original decisions to award the spot kicks despite being called by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to watch a video replay of both incidents, with Moroccan striker Walid Azaro tumbling to the ground too easily despite what appeared to be minimal contacts with his challengers.

Esperance filed a complaint with African governing body CAF, saying they were hard done by.

CAF reacted quickly in an apparent attempt to appease Esperance and cool tensions, giving key frontman Azaro a two-match suspension and depriving Ahly of a lethal weapon upfront.

"We had many chances in the first leg, but we should be stronger in the return match. Our players are experienced enough to deal with any atmosphere in Tunisia," Ahly's French boss Patrice Carteron said.

"We will ask for special protection for our team in Tunisia. I hope the Tunisian government will help in making the duel a football match, not a war in the stands."

Esperance will also have to do without two influential players due to automatic suspension -- Chamseddine Dhaouadi and Cameroonian midfielder Franck Kom.

The Tunisians, winners of two Champions League titles, have not beaten Ahly since 2011. Ahly's record of eight wins, six draws and three loses against Esperance makes them favorites to enjoy another continental triumph -- if history is anything to go by.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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