On Sunday night, all eyes will be on Alexandria’s Burg El Arab stadium, where CAF Champions League holders Esperance ST are due to take on Egypt’s Al Ahly in the opening leg of the tournament’s much-anticipated final.
The Tunisian outfit and current champions are five-time finalists, while their opponents will be playing their ninth final and are hoping to win the trophy for a remarkable seventh time.
Adding extra spice to the affair, contests between the two countries always produce something special, never more so than when silverware is at stake. On the eve of the game, FIFA.com takes a look back at the rivalry between sides from Egypt and Tunisia in Africa’s premier club competition.
Egyptian clubs have always had a liking for this tournament. Indeed, back in 1969 Ismaily became the first North African team to lift the cup, when they beat Congo DR’s TP Mazembe Engelbert 3-1 in the return leg in Cairo in front of 110,000 spectators - still a record attendance for the final of the competition.
This was the only Egyptian triumph until the 1980s, but once Egypt returned they came to conquer. Emphatically so, with domestic rivals Al Ahly and Zamalek scooping no fewer than 11 titles between 1982 and 2008. Small wonder then that the former – the Red Devils – were honoured by CAF as Africa's 'Club of the Century'.
Tunisian outfits were slower off the mark, as their first victory in the competition only came in 1991, when Club Africain defeated Uganda’s Villa 7-3 on aggregate. And while Egypt’s clubs can boast a greater tournament pedigree, there can be no doubt that Tunisian sides have shown most improvement in the last decade, with Esperance ST boasting the widest variety of continental title wins in Africa.
Egyptian clubs have faced their Tunisian rivals in four previous CAF Champions League finals and honours are currently even at two titles apiece. The first of these encounters saw Zamalek take on Esperance ST in 1994.
The Tunisian club showed remarkable composure in their first final to claim a scoreless draw in the opening leg in Cairo, before wrapping up the decider with a richly deserved 3-1 victory at Tunis’ El Menzah stadium. The tie saw stellar contributions from legends such as goalkeeper Chokri El Ouaer, Tarek Thabet, Hedi Berkhissa, Ali Ben Naji, Ayedi Hamrouni, Abdul Qader Belhassan and coach Faouzi Benzerti.
It took 11 years for revenge to be served, when Al Ahly took down Etoile Sportive du Sahel 3-0 with one of their strongest ever line-ups. Boasting the likes of Essam Al Hadari, Wael Gomaa, Mohamed Shawky, Mohammed Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat, Emad Motab and Flavio Amado, the Egyptian powerhouses proved too strong for their Tunisian opponents.
Just as in 1994, a goalless first leg was followed by a win for the hosts of the return leg, with Al Ahly knocking in three unanswered goals to complete their 2005 campaign without a single loss.
The 2006 final between Al Ahly and CS Sfaxien was perhaps the most memorable of them all, with legendary Portuguese coach Manuel Jose leading the Red Devils to yet another title.
A 1-1 opening-leg stalemate in Cairo put CS Sfaxien in the driving seat and, with just a minute left on the clock in the return leg and no goals scored, the club’s fans inside the Stade 14 January in Rades were already celebrating victory. Nobody told the inspirational Aboutrika, however, who turned the tie on its head with a decisive late strike to give Al Ahly the honours.
But Tunisian football had the latest laugh in 2007, when Etoile du Sahel made up for their 2005 defeat by beating Al Ahly. Following yet another goalless draw in the first leg, this time in Sousse, Etoile sprung a shock on the Cairo giants by defeating them 3-1 on their home turf, a result that owed much to the efforts of goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi and striker Amine Chermiti.
Have your say
Will the first-leg match between Al Ahly and Esperance ST on Sunday 4 November, at Alexandria’s Burg El Arab Stadium, end in yet another 0-0 draw, or can one of the two finalists snatch a valuable win?