CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
After Al Ahly’s 3-1 win over Esperance in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final in Egypt, all eyes will be on the Stade Olympique de Rades this evening when the Tunisian side host the return fixture to decide the continental championship.
The Cairo giants will be taking nothing for granted, however, knowing that a 2-0 win for the home side would hand them the title. Al Ahly also know they will be in for a long evening in Rades, where the fiercely passionate Esperance fans will really get behind Anice Badri and Co, just like they did in the previous round against Angola’s Primeiro de Agosto.
Considering the momentous occasion and the fact that Al Ahly need to keep a clean sheet or concede no more than one goal to be sure of victory, the Red Devils will be relying heavily on the expertise of players like Hossam Ashour. As the most senior member of the squad, Ashour has featured in more than 400 games with the club, won more than 30 local and continental titles, and led his team to runners-up spot in last year’s final.
Ashour knows very well that the away goal scored by Youcef Belaili in the first leg makes their task more difficult. “We were very focused on not conceding, something our coach Patrice Carteron repeatedly warned us about,” the veteran said.
“But we were against a very tough opponent, and things don’t always work out the way you plan them. They scored a goal which has made our task harder for the second leg.”
Al Ahly’s defence is expected to have a stern test from a side boasting strikers of the calibre of Anice Badri, Youcef Belaili and Taha Yassine Khenissi, who between them shared their side’s four goals in the semi-final second leg against D’Agosto.
While some observers feel the two-goal cushion has given Al Ahly the upper hand, Ashour thinks the opposite, warning that complacency could lead to a nasty surprise in Rades. He said: “We’ve not secured the title yet. Yes, we won 3-1, but there’s still the second half to play in Rades. That game will be difficult because Esperance managed to score a goal.”
Even though Ashour anticipates a tough second leg, the Al Ahly man insisted he had full confidence in his team, who have a great record in the competition. Having lost the final last year to Wydad Casablanca, no one at the club want to endure similar heartbreak. “Al Ahly players will fight, and we’ll lift the trophy in Tunis,” he vowed.
Ashour is confident his side are ready for the clash with Esperance, saying: “We’ve had a full week of preparations for the second leg and we’re fully focused on securing the title.”
Despite the absence of some key players for the second leg, Ashour expects his side to get a positive result and get back on the podium after a long drought. “There’s still a second half to play which will be crucial and difficult,” he said. “However, I hope luck will be on our side this time and that we return to Cairo with the trophy.”