BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
Espérance have a mountain to climb as the CAF Champions League gets to crescendo. The Tunisians will have to fight back to cancel a 1-3 deficit acquired in the encounter with Al Ahly a week ago in a tempestuous first leg of the continental showpiece in Alexandria.
The Alexandria encounter was marred by questionable decisions by the centre referee Walid Azarou, who awarded two unfair penalties to the home team. Both decisions were Video Assistant Referee (VAR) aided.
The second leg has been overshadowed by the controversies of the first encounter, including Azarou’s shirt-tearing celebration, which attracted CAF ban for the Al-Ahly attacker, and also asked manager Patrice Carteron to answer disciplinary query over his own conduct.
All said, Espérance believe they can add to their two previous triumphs in this competition by cancelling the deficit and going on to stop the Egyptian side from a record extending ninth title in Africa’s most glamorous club tournaments.
Coach Moine Chaabani is upset about the Alexandria show, which he described as “extreme injustice.” But he has asked his charges to respond with a commanding performance in the field of play.
The Tunis-based team will miss the services of two key players – Chamseddine Dhaouadi in defence and midfielder Franck Kom – who Chaabani is convinced were unfairly booked.
Espérance won the competition in 1994 and 2011 and had been in the final four other times.
Ahly have the advantage. They surely understand this tournament so well. As recent as the last edition, the Red Devils were in the final losing 1-2 aggregate to Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca. And they will not want a repeat experience so soon.
Not only will the winning team claim the trophy and the US$2.5 million cash prize, they will also go on to represent the continent in the FIFA Club World Cup next month in the United Arab Emirates.
CAF Champions League (Final second leg):
- Espérance (Tunisia) v Al-Ahly (Egypt) (first leg Al-Ahly 3-1) (8pm)