27 September 2017

Africa: Two Red Devils Clashing As Etoile Welcomes Old Foes Al Ahly

Another rivalry is renewed as the 2017 Total CAF Champions League enters its last four stage this weekend. Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel entertains Egyptian giants Al Ahly this Sunday (1 October 2017) at the Stade Olympique de Sousse, in the continent's premier club competition semifinal first leg.

It is a story of much similarities as both sides know each other very well. Having met in nine previous CAF matches, including two CAF Champions League finals and a CAF Super Cup one, Al Ahly and Etoile seem to be some old foes who started a fierce rivalry in the last decade.

Both sides first met in the 2005 CAF Champions League final. After holding their hosts to a barren draw in Sousse, Al Ahly (led then by the legendary Mohamed Abu Treika) won 3-0 in Cairo to claim their fourth title then.

In March 2007 both sides met again in the CAF Super Cup final, held then at the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Another barren draw was followed by Ahly winning 5-4 on penalty shootout. It was a matter of months after they met yet again at the 2007 CAF Champions League final. But Ahly failed to repeat their 2005 feat, despite holding Etoile to another goalless stalemate in Sousse, but the Tunisians managed a 3-1 win in Cairo to claim their first and only Champions League title.

The rivalry was transferred to the second tier CAF Confederation Cup group stage in consecutive seasons. In 2014 a 1-1 draw in Sousse was followed by a goalless one in Cairo, as Ahly went all the way to win their maiden Confederation Cup trophy. And in the next year both sides won at home with an identical 1-0 score. This time it was Etoile who claimed the title at the end of the road; their second in history.

And the story of similarities continues, as both sides are known with exactly the same nickname; "The Red Devils". Also, they are currently led by two previous CAF Champions League winning coaches.

Egyptian Hossam El Badry, who is enjoying his third spell with Al Ahly guided his boyhood club to the continental glory in 2012, while Etoile's French coach Hubert Velud tasted the same feat when he led DR Congo giants TP Mazembe to win the continent's elite club competition in 2015.

Another ironic point that gathers both teams occurred in the previous quarter final round, as their passage to the semis was orchestrated by natives from their rival countries. Tunisian left back Ali Maaloul guided Al Ahly to the semifinal, scoring and assisting in the Cairo Red Devils away 2-1 win over his compatriots Esperance, to complete a 4-3 aggregate win. Meanwhile Egyptian born striker Amr Marei scored a brace for Etoile as they defeated Libya's Ahly Tripoli 2-0 in Sousse to qualify with the same aggregate result.

While Etoile are missing their Brazilian striker Diogo Acosta, still serving suspension following his sending off against Ahly Tripoli in the quarter final first leg, Velud will be banking on the inform Marei, with midfielders Hamza Lahmar and Guinean born Alkhaly Bangoura.

On the other side El Badry, who opted to remain in Tunisia after last Sunday's match against Esperance rather than having a two-way trip to Cairo and back, will be waiting a medical report for his defender Saad Samir who missed last weekend's game through injury. El Badry is expected to field Nigerian striker Junior Ajayi from the start, after he came from the bench to score his side's most precious winning goal last Sunday.

The return leg is scheduled in three weeks time in Alexandria, with the aggregate winner advancing to the final, seeking 2.5 million US dollars prize, and a place in the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup next December in the United Arab Emirates.

Semi-finals fixtures

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