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Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Egypt's Ahly to face Tunisian Esperance in Champions League group stage

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 21 Mar 2018
File photo of Egyptian giants Ahly (Photo: Reuters)

Record winners Ahly of Egypt were drawn with Tunisian giants Esperance in the African Champions League group stage on Wednesday, six months after they met in the quarter-finals of last year's edition.

Ahly will also meet Uganda's Kampala City and Botswana's Township Rollers in Group A of Africa's blue-riband club competition. 

The draw is largely a favourable one for a powerful Ahly side who were crowned African champions a record eight times.

They were close to landing a ninth title last year, only to fall at the last hurdle after a 2-1 aggregate loss to Morocco's Wydad Casablanca. En route to the final, Ahly ousted North African rivals Esperance.

In the last eight, the first two-legged knockout tie of the competition, Esperance looked on course of ousting Ahly after holding them to an exciting 2-2 first-leg draw in Alexandria.

However, Ahly gave Esperance a lesson in how to execute deadly counter attacks in the return leg in Rades, coming from behind to earn a remarkable 2-1 win with two second-half goals from Tunisian left-back Ali Maaloul and Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi.

"It's a balanced draw. The start of the group phase will be tough against Esperance but we will take it one step at a time," said Ahly's football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz. 

Wednesday's draw took place at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in Cairo.

Former Ahly great Gilberto breathed a sigh of relief when he drew his ex-club's ball out of the bowl. The Angolan winger is a three-time Champions League winner with the Red Devils, having played a key role in propelling them to the 2005, 2006 and 2008 triumphs.

With no continental pedigree, Kampala City and Township Rollers will find it hard to tussle with Ahly and two-time winners Esperance for one of the two places which earn qualification for the last eight.

However, Abdel-Hafiz warned against understimating the rank outsiders. "We must be careful because both ousted strong teams in the previous rounds," he added. 

For the first time in the Champions League, a draw will be made to determine the quarter-final duels between the winners and runners-up of the four groups. The group phase begins in May and ends in August.

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