The hour has finally arrived for the coronation of yet another king of African football. Tunisian giants Esperance Sportive de Tunis entertain their Moroccan counterparts Wydad Athletic Club on Friday at Stade Olympique de Rades in the second leg of the Total CAF Champions League 2018/19 final.
Both sides played to a 1-1 draw last Friday in Rabat. It was the visitors Esperance who took the lead just before the break through Ivorian Fousseny Coulibaly, before hosts Wydad equalized through another Ivorian, Cheick Comara 11 minutes from time. Wydad finished the game with ten men after captain Brahim Nakkach was given his marching orders for receiving his second yellow card after 49 minutes.
The first leg result means two-time champions Wydad would have to score at Rades if they hope to reclaim the trophy they won in 2017. A goalless draw would be enough for title holders Esperance to complete their successful defence, and join giants Al Ahly (Egypt), TP Mazembe (DR Congo) and Enyimba (Nigeria) as the only clubs to have achieved back-to-back feats in the premier continental club championship.
It's the second time both sides face each other with the Holy Grail of African club football at stake. Both sides met in the 2011 CAF Champions League final. After a barren draw in Casablanca, Ghanaian Harrison Afful scored what proved to be the winning goal for Esperance at Rades to handle the "Blood and Gold" side their second Champions League trophy at the time.
Between them, Esperance and Wydad have five Champions League trophies. Esperance won the premier continental club competition title in 1994, 2011 and 2018, while Wydad tasted glory in 1992 and 2017. Reaching their second final in the last three seasons for both sides confirm their recent domination of club football on the continent.
But Wydad will be haunted by the fact of their away results this term, compared to their opponents' home record. In six away Champions League games this season, the Moroccans won once, drew twice (both being goalless) and lost three times. Wydad just managed three away goals compared to seven in their net. On the other side, Esperance's home record has been just perfect. The Tunisians won all their five home games, scoring 10 goals in the process and conceding just once.
"The winner is not yet decided. We are facing off a great team, having enough experience and a great coach. There is still another game for which we have to prepare well", Esperance coach Moine Chaabani said after the first leg.
His counterpart Faouzi Benzarti echoed his words and said Esperance is a great team. We had to make a huge effort to come back and score in the game. I would like to thank my players for the level they have shown despite having a player sent off".
Both coaches had tasted CAF Champions League glory before, Benzarti in 1994 and Chaabani last year; ironically both with Esperance.
The aggregate winner will bag 2.5 million US dollars, and a date with Egypt's Zamalek in the 2019 Total CAF Super Cup next August.