17 November 2012

Tunisia/Egypt: Depleted Esperance Still Favourites

Photo: CAF
Egypt's Al Ahly win record seventh CAF Champions League title

Esperance remain favourites to hold their CAF Champions League crown even though the Tunisian side could be without several key players in Saturday's return leg final against Egypt's Al Ahly.

The defending champions were held to a 1-1 draw by hosts Ahly a fortnight ago. However, this result on the road came at a great cost as Ghana star Harrison Afful and Sameh Derbali picked up their second bookings of the series and are as a result suspended for the return leg at the Rades Stadium.

Midfielder Majdi Traoui has also been ruled out on account of a training ground injury, which required surgery and will sideline him for several weeks.

Esperance are also sweating on the fitness of star forward Youssef Msakni, who underwent an appendicitis operation on the eve of the first leg final in Alexandria. Esperance only need a clean sheet at home to win a back-to-back Champions League trophy and join an elite class of clubs such as Enyimba, Ahly and TP Mazembe.

It would also deny Ahly a seventh Champions League title. But Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul insisted his team will be going for an outright victory. "We will not think of the result of the first game. We will instead play as if we lost the first match because this final is far from decided," Maaloul said.

Experienced Ahly campaigner Wael Gomaa warned that his team would have to avoid giving away corners and free kicks near their goal area to stand any chance of upsetting their hosts. "Set pieces are Esperance's main source of danger, other teams really struggle to deal with it," Gomaa explained.

"They made the most of this when they defeated Olympique Beja (in a recent Tunisian league fixture) 2-1 where their two goals came from set pieces. The only way to stop them is to avoid conceding corners or free kicks near our box."

The major absentee for the Egyptians will be experienced fullback Sayed Moawad, who is nursing a foot injury, which also sidelined him from the first leg. The winners of this annual competition will also represent Africa at this year's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Last year Esperance finished a disappointing sixth after losing both their matches in this tournament.

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