Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Keeping it late

The 1-1 draw between Ahli and Esperance in the first leg final of the Orange CAF Champions League ensures a nail-biting conclusion, Abeer Anwar reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The first leg of the final of this African Champions League might not have been a masterpiece. Still the game, because of its importance, was gripping.
Waleed Hichri gave the visitors, who are the defending champions, the lead two minutes after the break while substitute Al-Sayed Hamdi equalised for Ahli two minutes from time.
The second leg is to be played on 17 November at Rades Stadium in Tunis. Esperance enjoy the home advantage and take an away goal into the return leg.
Ahli are under strong pressure as they have to win away from home. A goalless draw is enough for Esperance to take the title.
Ahli started the first half on an attacking note and Hossam Ghali’s long ball missed Walid Suleiman in the first minute. Esperance closed their defensive area with five players in the midfield. Tunisian keeper Moez Ben Chrifieh stopped Abdullah Al-Said’s shot after 14 minutes, and he was there again for another shot from Al-Said five minutes later.
Chrifieh was one of the stars of the game as he saved a number of Ahli’s shots especially two sure winners by Mohamed Abu Treika. “I am happy with my performance during the match especially because I was able to block a ball by Ahli’s star, Abu Treika, whose shots are always translated into goals,” Chrifieh said.
Right after the restart defender Walid Hichri gave Esperance the lead when he was the quickest to react to Khalil Chamam’s corne kick. It wasn’t till the 88th minute when home side Ahli eventually found an equaliser when Ahmed Fathi’s clever  pass reached substitute Hamdi who shot past Ben Chrifieh much to the delight of Ahli fans and relief of the hosts.
Ahli’s players did their best but Esperance’s defensive style foiled most attacks. Commented Taha Ismail, Egypt’s TV football expert, “Esperance are very well organised and their defensive line is difficult to pierce so (Ahli coach) Hossam Al-Badri has to work on this in the next two weeks.
“I think Esperance will depend in Rades on 50 per cent defence and 50 per cent attack as they will feel safer at home and among their fans.”
Al-Badri said he was satisfied with the draw. “A late draw is far better than a loss. The players were playing under stress as it is the first time since a long time they play in front of fans. Also the stoppage of the local league greatly affected the players physically and psychologically.”
The league was cancelled after the soccer riot of 1 February this year when 74 fans were killed in a match in a domestic fixture in Port Said between Masri and Ahli. Most of those killed were Ahli supporters.
Since the tragedy, all games in Egypt have been played behind closed doors as a precautionary security measure.
On Sunday, the game with Esperance allowed a few thousand spectators, mainly families of the victims of Port Said. The match was played far from Cairo, in Borg Al-Arab Stadium on the outskirts of Alexandria.
Ahli will take two days off after which they will start preparations for the second leg. The team decided to take their cook to Rades for their food which was prescribed by Ihab Ali, the team’s physician.
“I am satisfied with my team’s performance in front of a big team as Ahli whom we’re meeting in the final for the first time,” Nabil Maloul, Esperance’s coach, said. “It is wrong to say that we have a better chance in the second leg.” He said he feared a repeat of the 2006 final when Ahli drew in Cairo against Tunisia’s Sfaxien 1-1 but won 1-0 in Tunis thanks to a late Abu Treika goal.
Maloul blamed the media for comparing the match to a battle. “We are two Arab and African teams that share the same situation as we have passed through the Arab Spring. If Ahli are the winner we will be happy that an Arab team has made it to the final.”
Tunisia was the first Arab country last year to overthrow its president, Ben Ali, who was forced to flee. In January 2012, an 18-day uprising in Egypt forced Hosni Mubarak to step down as president.
The revolutions in both countries halted soccer competitions but Maloul said he was for the resumption of the league competitions in both Tunisia and Egypt, without spectators if the security situation remains unstable. “The police in both countries is still not strong enough and fans are becoming more aggressive after they lost respect for the police. So we have to continue with the competition in the absence of fans until the situation gradually improves.”
In pre-match comments, Emad Metab, Ahli’s star striker, said, “Definitely this is going to be a very tough game, but all we are thinking about is the trophy. We know well the nature of the encounters between Egyptian and Tunisian clubs. We respect Esperance but we’re not afraid of them. We’ll do our best to win the title and dedicate it to the souls of our fans who lost their lives in Port Said. In our campaign we were affected by playing behind closed doors, but now that we have our supporters back, they’re going to strengthen our side going into such an important fixture.”
“I wish we could win the premier African title that we last won in 2008,” said Ahli’s defender Ahmed Fathi said before the game. “The game is going to be tough for both teams. Ahli and Esperance are currently the best clubs on the continent. We’re ready for the match and will do our best to achieve a convincing victory to help us before the away leg in Tunis.”
Also before game time, Mohamed Nagi ‘Geddo’ of Ahli: “It doesn’t matter whether I score goals or not, what matters most is that Ahli wins the trophy after the away leg. Definitely I hope to continue my scoring streak after managing to score three times against Nigeria’s Sunshine Stars in the semi-final. If I scored in the Champions League final this would be a very precious goal in my career.”
 Ahli, who have won the African tournament six times, was voted the African club of the 20th century, while Esperance have been crowned Champions League winners twice and has featured in three other finals. Ahli will be playing its ninth Champions League final; Esperance will be playing her sixth.
Esperance have knocked Ahli out of the last two tournaments.
The clash of the two will thus be that of giants whose result is unpredictable. Esperance will be home for the return of the final, its third consecutive final. The team has a slight advantage, having had an almost regular championship, even though some of the matches were played behind closed doors. Ahli on its part was without domestic competition since the start of February after  the Port Said tragedy.

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