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Football | CAF Champions League

Khaled Mouelhi © Action Images

Esperance look to defend CAF CL title



Tunisia’s Esperance will join an elite class of only three other clubs who have successfully defended their CAF Champions League title if they beat Al Ahly of Egypt on Saturday.

Only Ahly, TP Mazembe from DR Congo and Nigeria’s Enyimba have successfully retained the trophy in the annual competition’s 48 year history.

‘The Blood and Gold’ have the advantage of a goal on the road from the first leg final in Alexandria two weeks ago after they were forced to a 1-1 draw by their hosts.

This means that if they keep a clean sheet against six-time winners Ahly inside the Rades Stadium in Tunis this weekend, they will make history.

The perennial Tunisian champions have won Africa’s foremost club competition twice, in 1994 and 2011, and they have featured in the last three Champions League finals.

However, their task has been made a little difficult with the absence of several of their key stars through suspension and injury.

Ghana star Harrison Afful and Sameh Derbali are ruled out after they picked up their second booking in the first clash against Ahly.

Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul had planned to play Khaled Mouelhi on the right side of defence in the absence of these players, but his plans have now been upset by the training ground injury of Majdi Traoui.

Aymen Ben Amor may now be drafted to the right side of defence, while Mouelhi moves into midfield.

Star forward Youssef Msakni, who missed the first clash in Egypt after an appendicitis operation earlier this month, has returned to training with the main squad even though Maaloul is not so confident the Tunisia international will be fit in time for Saturday’s showdown.

The Qatar-bound striker now faces a late fitness test.

“We are prepared to win,” declared Maaloul, a top star in his playing days for Esperance.

“We therefore urge the fans to support us from start to finish as they did in the semifinal against TP Mazembe.”

But Ahly must take some confidence from the first game against the tournament favourites because they dominated the first half.

Tunisia only scored against the run of play soon after resumption after which Ahly fought back to draw level.

The major absentee for ‘The Red Devils’ is defender Sayed Moawad, who has been nursing a foot injury which forced him to miss the first clash.

The Cairo club will be fired up to win their seventh champions League trophy after they last won it four years ago.

Ahly technical director Mohamed Youssef has promised his team will adopt a different tactic from what they played in the first game.

“It will be a difficult game against a top team. But our tactics will be different from the first leg,” he said.

“Esperance have a solid defence and they play as a team. But we will attack them on Saturday because that is the only way can now win this competition.”

Meanwhile, the Tunisian authorities have pegged the crowd for this final to 35 000 fans for security reasons.

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