9 November 2013

Egypt/South Africa: A Final Still Undecided

The overwhelming impression is that of déjà vu. The finalists, Al-Ahly and Orlando Pirates will clash on Sunday evening at the Arab Contractors Stadium in Cairo for the fourth time this season.

They two clubs were in the same group and battled it out in the first leg of the final last week. Ahly remain winless against their South African guests from their previous meetings, but the one-all draw last week has buoyed their chances.

However, Ahly captain Wael Gomaa reckons it is far from over pointing out the impressive away record of their opponents.

"Orlando Pirates play much better away from home. We must therefore be vigilant at home. It will be difficult, but our experience will help us win the title," said Gomaa, who is seeking for his sixth title after 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2012.

Gomaa has every cause to worry in that sense, after the Buccaneers edged out Esperance of Tunisia at the semis on the away goal rule. The first leg in Johannesburg ended barren but the South Africans pulled a 1-1 draw in the reverse meeting in Rades to go through.

The second leg will surely be different from the first leg. In Johannesburg, the Cairo-based giants adopted a cautious approach with a 4-4-1-1 system. They relied on the inspiration and talent of Mohamed Aboutreika and midfield duo Walil Soliman and Abdullah Said with lone striker Ahmed Abdel Zaher.

Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef has rued his team's inability to score more after Aboutreika broke the deadlock early in the first half.

"We managed to score once, and if we had been calmer and focused, we probably would have doubled the score," said Youssef.

Unfortunately for Pirates, influential duo, Andile Jali and Happy Jele are suspended for the most important game of the campaign, but head coach Roger De Sa is convinced there are equally good replacements to make up for the void.

"Obviously I would have preferred to have Jali and Jele for the trip, but we got to the final with several key players. There will be 11 Pirates against Al Ahly 11 players on the field," said De Sa.

Ahly will be aiming for title number eight, and Pirates, their second after their only triumph in 1995.

In addition to the trophy, the winner will receive a cheque for 1.5 million US Dollars and the ticket to represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup next month in Morocco.

Interesting facts

29 - The number of goals scored by Mohamed Aboutreika in the CAF Champions League. He is eight goals shy of all-time top scorer Mahmoud Al Khatib (Bibo).

13 - In 13 appearances in the final of a continental club championship, Ahly have never lost in the first leg.

4 - The number of goals conceded by Al Ahly in Cairo in eight finals of the CAF Champions League. The Egyptians have kept six clean sheets, conceding three of the four goals in the final against Etoile du Sahel in 2007.

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