Esperance of Tunisia took a big step towards retaining their African Champions League crown with a 1-1 draw away against 10-man Wydad Casablanca in the first leg of the final on Friday.
Fousseny Coulibaly scored for the visitors just before half-time at the Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdellah in the Moroccan capital to hand Esperance the lead but they gave up an equaliser late on to Cheick Ibrahim Comara.
The results means Esperance are well placed to become the fourth club in more than a half century of the competition to retain the trophy when they host the return leg in Tunis on Friday.
Coulibaly had his header from a free kick parried but was quickest to follow up and force the ball into the net in the 44th minute to open the scoring.
Wydad, who won the competition in 2017, thought they had equalised a minute later through Ayoub El Amloud but a Video Assistant Referee review showed there had been a handball in the build-up by Ismail El Haddad and the goal was ruled out by Egyptian referee Gehad Gerisha.
It was the first major impact of VAR in African football where they system has only been previously been used in last year’s continental club competition finals.
Wydad suffered a further setback just four minutes into the second half when captain Brahim Nakach picked up a second caution for a reckless high challenge.
In the 57th minute VAR was consulted again to determine whether Esperance captain Khalil Chamm had blocked a goal-bound shot with his hand and it took almost two minutes for Greisha to watch replays before deciding it had not.
Wydad did not let their one-man disadvantage hold them back and they grabbed the equaliser when defender Comara powered home a header from a 79th minute free kick.
Friday’s match kicked off at 10 p.m. local time to allow players and spectators time to break their daylight fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.