Esperance & Al Ahly collide in Tunis for CAF Champions League glory!

The stage is set for the latest blockbuster instalment of African club football’s greatest rivalry. Esperance of Tunisia host Egyptian powerhouse Al Ahly on Saturday in the first leg of the 2023/24 TotalEnergies CAF Champions League final.

The meeting between these heavyweights in Africa’s premier club competition stretching back several years. Ahly have shaded the head-to-head, but Esperance will be desperate to gain an advantage on home soil as they chase a fifth Champions League crown.

The Blood and Gold have been kings of the continent four times while Ahly’s incredible dynasty has seen them lift the trophy a record 11 times already. A 12th title is very much in their sights after an unbeaten run to the final.

“Every Champions League opponent raises their game against Ahly. We are the most successful club in Africa so everybody wants to beat us,” cautioned the Red Devils’ Swiss coach Marcel Koller.

His counterpart Miguel Cardoso is eyeing the biggest achievement of his nomadic career after struggling at clubs in Portugal, France, Spain and Greece.

“Reaching the final is the pinnacle,” said the Esperance boss. “We must grab this opportunity with both hands.”

The two sides have been impeccably solid at the back, with goalkeepers Mostafa Shobeir of Ahly and Esperance’s Amanallah Memmiche arguably the players of the tournament so far. Both have kept a remarkable 11 clean sheets from 12 matches.

Shobeir, the 23-year-old son of Ahly legend Ahmed, has been a revelation after being promoted due to captain Mohamed El Shenawy’s injury. Koller now has a big call to make over whether to stick with Shobeir or recall the experienced El Shenawy.

At the other end, 20-year-old Memmiche has emerged from nowhere to dislodge long-time Esperance number one Moez Ben Cherifia and play a key role in their surprise run to the final.

While defences have been on top, Ahly boast a more potent attack having scored 19 goals compared to just 9 for Esperance. South African winger Percy Tau and the prolific Hussein El Shahat lead the Egyptian charge.

Esperance’s main threat comes from Brazilian forward Yan Sasse who has 3 goals, though compatriot Rodrigues has failed to open his account. Much may depend on the supply line from the likes of Algerians Houssem Ghacha and Mohamed Tougai, and Togo’s Roger Aholou.

The visitors will be boosted by the return from injury of influential midfielder Aliou Dieng, while defensive rock Badr Benoun is expected to shake off a knock.

With a raucous home crowd behind them, Esperance will look to gain an advantage in the opening instalment of what promises to be an epic continental tussle before heading to Cairo for the second leg in a week’s time.

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