Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

The big one

On Saturday, either Ahli or Esperance will emerge with the African crown, Abeer Anwar reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Though Ahli of Egypt and Tunisia’s Esperance are both former champions of the African Champions League and have met each other more than once in the continent’s premier football club competition, when they meet after tomorrow for the second leg of the final, it will surprisingly be the first time the two heavyweights meet in the tournament’s end game.
The first leg ended 1-1 in Cairo, giving the Tunisians the edge.
Still, the result is unpredictable. Defending champions Esperance will be home for the return leg, 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 for its part was without domestic competition since the start of February after the Port Said tragedy that claimed the lives of 74 fans in a horrific soccer riot.
While Ahli was voted African club of the 20th century, and has won the tournament a record six times. Esperance has 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 its sixth.
Ahli’s draw with difficulty against Esperance in Borg Al-Arab Stadium in Alexandria in the first leg match favours Esperance who will play in front of their fans in Radas.
Only twice has Esperance lost the chance to win at home -- in 1997 against Al-Raja of Casablanca and in 2010 when they drew against the Congo’s Mazembe.
Esperance are also recent winners of the national league and the team is playing the match with a bit of assurance, as a draw is enough for the hosts.
The Tunisian federation has allowed 25,000 fans to attend the match but they must be over 20 years old. Ahli, are allowed only 10,000 tickets.
The team that wins will get to play in the World Championship for clubs starting in December in the UAE.
On Saturday, Ahli will be missing the efforts of star Sayed Moawad, who will not be able to join the team on its trip to Tunisia due to injury. Moawad, an attacking right back, will be missed because Ahli know full well Esperance will seal its defense.
“I need 11 attackers to be able to go through Esperance’s defence,” Ahli coach Hossam Al-Badri said. However, Al-Badri felt both sides had an equal opportunity to win. “It’s not difficult for Ahli to reverse the situation in Tunis and win the trophy. It’s not unusual or impossible because Ahli have done it before. If Esperance managed to score here, we can score there and win the match.”
Sayed Abdel-Hafiz, Ahli’s football team manager, said that all the players will do their best to win the trophy “for the Port Said martyrs. They want Egyptians to feel happy and celebrate.
“I think we have a better chance to win as our African experience is more than Esperance. They are a big team but we will be up to the challenge and the players will try to score early to feel relaxed.”
Abdel-Hafiz added that Al-Badri had refused to play any friendlies but simply divided the team into two and played against each other on a daily basis.
Ahli’s goalkeepers are also concentrating more on penalties in case the match ends in a 1-1 draw.
Abdel-Hafiz added that it was unacceptable that all the blame after the first leg match fell on Sherif Ekrami, Ahli’s goalkeeper, who mistimed his jump which allowed an easy header in. “He is still learning and people have to know that Essam Al-Hadari, Ahli’s former superstar goalkeeper, took seven years to reach what he reached. It is not an easy job and it doesn’t come over night.”
Meanwhile, Al-Sayed Hamdi, who scored Ahli’s tying goal late in the first leg, has apologized for the gesture he made after scoring, like that of butchering a sheep or cow.
“I meant nothing bad. We love our brothers, the Tunisians, and the sign was misinterpreted. I was just doing like my teammate Shehabeddin Ahmed who is nicknamed the ‘butcher’ in the team,” Hamdi told Al-Sabah, one of Tunisia’s biggest newspapers. Ahmed made the same sign after scoring the winning goal against Ittihad of Libya in the early stages of the same competition a few years back.
According to Hesham Al-Said, Ahli’s head of delegation, the club’s board members will be flying to Tunisia using their own money to cheer the team on.
Ahli was founded on 4 April 1907, while Esperance Sportive of Tunis was established on 15 January 1919. Since then the two clubs have won trophies, both nationally and continentally.
Both teams are also led by local coaches who were previous football players on their teams. Al-Badri is a former Ahli midfielder from 1978 to 1987, and had 18 caps for the Egyptian national team from 1980 to 1985. He began coaching Ahli during the 2009-2010 season before moving to El Merreikh (Sudan) after which he returned to Egypt, first to ENPPI then back to Ahli.
Nabil Maâloul of Esperance he played in Esperance from 1975 to 1989 before moving to Hannover 96 from 1989 to 1991. He returned to Tunisia and Esperance where he played for three seasons and then to Club Bizertin and Club Africain before ending his career in Al Ahli Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). Maâloul donned the national team jersey from 1982 to 1994 as a midfielder. He began his coaching career as assistant to the coach of the national team, Roger Lemerre, and was beside him when Tunisia won the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations. After a brief stint with Club Bizertin, he took over the baton of command in Esperance in December 2010 and achieved a feat, winning triple trophies (the Cup, the league and the African Champions League) before being temporarily replaced by Michel Decastel in January 2012.
Ahli’s midfielder maestro Mohamed Abu Treika, who made the list of the final five nominees for the 2012 Player of the Year (based in Africa), says the award will be a big boost for him as his team seeks the African title, and that he was “very proud” to be nominated again for the prestigious award. The winner will be announced on 20 December at the awards gala night in Accra, Ghana.
Abu Treika told cafonline, “I’m really proud with this nomination, and take it as a boost and mental push for me in my career, especially as we’re preparing to participate in the CAF Champions League final second leg.
“This has been a special year for me, a year of sadness. But on the other hand it is a motivation for me to go on and give all what I’ve got to win something and dedicate it for Ahli’s martyrs who lost their lives in Port Said.
“I won the title in 2008 but if I have the honour of winning it this year it will be great. I have to keep on working hard and try my best regardless of winning or not.”  
As to how he sees his competitors for the award, Zambians Stopila Sunzu and Rainford Kalaba, Cameroon’s Yannick N’dkeng and Tunisia’s Youssef Msakni, Abu Treika said, “They are all excellent players and had an amazing season with their clubs and national teams where they produced great performances. I believe they all deserve the award, and I hope the title remains in North Africa. If I’m not the one to win I wish Msakni wins it.
“Last year Tunisian Oussama Darragui won the award, and the year before it was my teammate Ahmed Hassan. I hope the North African winning streak continues, be it me or Msakni.”

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