Preview: Zamalek in tough mission against Esperance in Tunisia as both sides seek Champions League semis

Mohamad Mosselhi , Thursday 5 Mar 2020

Esperance Sportive de Tunis
Esperance Sportive de Tunis' Fousseny Coulibaly in action with Zamalek's Obama (Reuters)

Despite having a first leg advantage, Zamalek will have a mountain to climb on Friday when they face Esperance de Tunis at Rades Stadium in the second leg of the Champions League quarter finals.

Zamalek won the first leg 3-1 at Cairo Stadium last week and they have to avoid a 2-0 loss in Tunisia to advance into the next round.

Mission will not be easy given the quality of their rivals, who won the past two editions of the competition at Rades Stadium.

"Our mission will not be easy," Zamalek coach Patrice Carteron told the pre-match news conference on Thursday. "We will face a very good team that won the Champions League twice in the past two editions and I am expecting a very tough clash on Friday."

"I asked my players to forget the first leg and to focus on Friday’s game, which will be very difficult for both sides."

During the past three weeks, Zamalek faced Esperance de Tunis twice. The first was in Qatar at the CAF Super Cup while the second was in the first leg of the Champions League quarters.

Zamalek won on both occasions and with the same result of 3-1, but Friday's clash will be more important than the two previous games.

It is likely that Zamalek will adopt the same strategy of the CAF Super Cup when the White Knights played a tactical game depending on defence and the counters.

This strategy helped Zamalek win the game in Qatar and Carteron hopes that the same strategy will be successful in Tunisia.

The White Knights flew to Tunisia without defensive duo Abdallah Gomaa and Mohamed Abdel-Ghani, who will miss the game due to injury. However, Zamalek will regain the services of forward Youssef 'Obama' Ibrahim after his recovery from a knee injury that prevented him from playing in the first leg.   

On the other hand, Esperance de Tunis hopes to take the maximum benefit of playing on home soil. It is known that the ambiance at Rades Stadium is very difficult for the visitors and gives a good advantage for the hosts.

The Tunisian side announced that 60,000 supporters will be allowed to attend this crucial clash, which will put Zamalek's players under huge pressure during the game.

"Our hopes are still alive," Esperance keeper Moez Ben Cherifia told a Tunisian radio station.

''We produced a good performance in Cairo but we lost. We have to forget this game and I say to Zamalek they will face a tough mission at Rades Stadium," he added.

The international keeper refused to comment about the incidents that occurred during the first leg that saw the Moroccan keeper show a red card for Algerian defender Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane  

The latter will not be the only one who will miss the game as the Confederation of the African Football (CAF) handed Esperance heavy sanctions on Wednesday.

Defender Khalil Chamam got a six-match suspension while Algerian midfielder Abderaouf Benguit will be suspended for four games due to their behaviour toward the referee after the first leg.

Coach Mouine Chaabani and his assistant Mejdi Traoui also had their share of sanctions as they were suspended for four games for using offensive language and threats to the referee.

Fullback Ilyes Chetti will also miss the game, but this time due to injury.

These absences will surely affect the defending champions, especially in defence, which has been suffering many lapses that appeared during the previous two games.  

Despite these absences, Esperance remain a tough opponent and, according to their keeper, they are ready for all challenges.

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