Defending champions Esperance will compete in their third straight CAF Champions League final after beating TP Mazembe 1-0 in the second leg and on aggregate. The Tunisians will face Egyptian giants Al Ahly, who beat Nigeria’s Sunshine Stars by the same score in the other last four match, to set up a North African finale.
The home-and-away two-legged final will take place in November, and it should be a worthy pair of matches for Africa’s biggest club competition. Ahly have won the event a record six times, while Esperance are looking for their third African crown. The Blood and Gold have had the better of Ahly over the last two competitions, doing their part to eliminate the Red Devils in the group stage last year and knocking them out on away goals in the 2010 semi-finals. Before that, the Egyptians had an unprecedented run of dominance in the competition, reaching four finals in a row with three wins.
The winner of the final will qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012, which takes place in December.
Game of the week
Esperance 1-0 TP Mazembe
The Blood and Gold played out a script similar to the 2011 final, when they drew 0-0 in the first leg against Wydad Casablanca and then controlled the home leg, keeping their nerve to claim a 1-0 victory. Like last year, when Ghanaian Harrison Afful scored the only goal of the match, it was a defender that stepped up to make the difference - in this case Mohamed Ben Mansour in the 70th minute. Khalil Chemmam’s free-kick was headed on through the box twice before the left back popped in just ahead of the goalkeeper to flick the ball into the net. Missing the Zambian spine of Stoppila Sunzu and Rainford Kalaba, the four-time champions from DR Congo struggled to impose themselves on the contest.
In the other direction, Esperance created chances before the goal, notably through Afful and playmaker Youssef Msakni, who also set up Karim Aouadhi for a header against the bar. The Crows were surprisingly lacklustre despite their admired attack, however they almost stole the tie in the final minutes as Given Singuluma forced a fine save from Moez Ben Cherifia. Not only is the result revenge for the 6-1 aggregate defeat in the 2010 final, but Esperance wins quite bragging rights by being the first side to eliminate Mazembe (who were disqualified by CAF last term) on the pitch in the Champions League since the group stage in 2008.
The other match
Al Ahly 1-0 Sunshine Stars
The Egyptian giants will compete in their first final since 2008 after a 4-3 aggregate win. It was a comfortable home experience in a new Cairo stadium despite there being no spectators to witness the contest. Mohamed ‘Gedo’ Nagy followed up his brace in the 3-3 first leg with the only goal just before the half-hour mark. His trademark burst into the box with a lethal finish at the end came from a confident move by the hosts, who seemed more composed despite not playing domestic football for eight months. It was a disappointing end of the road for the debutante Nigerians, who created few chances beyond Tamen Medrano’s pair of opportunities in the second half.
Player of the week
Gedo not only scored three of Al Ahly four goals in the tie with Sunshine Stars, including the decisive fourth, the striker also hit the woodwork three times in the second leg. Typically known as a supersub since his late-match heroics in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2010, the Egyptian nodded two headers off the bar and grazed a post with another shot.
4 - The number of Champions League titles won by Tunisian clubs, which includes two for Esperance and one each for Club Africain and Etoile du Sahel. Three nations' clubs have won the contest five times - DR Congo, Cameroon and Morocco - while Egypt are top with 12.
What they said
“We are ready for Ahly. I think the final will be hotly contested between two Arab rivals,” Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul.
Have your say
Can Al Ahly stop Esperance from defending their title?