After both first leg matches in the CAF Champions League semi-finals ended in stalemates, the ties remain evenly poised as North African giants Esperance and Al Ahly try for a repeat of the 2012 final, which Cairo-based Al Ahly won. Their respective opponents - Orlando Pirates and Coton Sport - are out to spoil the party and are looking to come away from their travels this weekend with a result that will see them into the final. The victor in that two-legged final will represent the continent in December's FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco.
Match of the week
Esperance - Orlando Pirates
After playing to a goalless draw in the first leg in South Africa, Esperance fans believe the Blood and Gold have the upper hand to qualify for their fourth consecutive Champions League final. The Tunisian side will do well to remember last year's final against Al Ahly though, when fans were expecting their team to lift the trophy at home after a 1-1 draw in Cairo. However, a 2-1 home defeat saw Al Ahly win the title for a record-breaking seventh-time. Algerian defender Anther Yahia is a definite non-starter for the home side after being injured in a league game, while 1995 champions Orlando Pirates will be without Siyabonga Sangweni. The international defender picked up a serious injury that will see him out for several weeks.
Pirates midfielder Daine Klate said that the fact that a side needs to find a goal to win will make it easier for his side. "We will have to take the game to them. Esperance will come all out to play and that suits us. At this stage, I think the pressure is more on [them]. They have to beat us to go to the finals, and they are playing at home, so, I expect an open game."
The other match
For a number of Al Ahly players the return leg against Coton Sport provides them with an ideal opportunity to bounce back after the disappointment of being beaten this week 6-1 by Ghana's Black Stars in a FIFA World Cup™ play-off match. Barring a major footballing miracle that means that the main core of Ahly's team is struggling with more World Cup anguish. As well, the announced retirement of talisman Mohamed Aboutrika at the end of this Champions League campaign has heaped meaning on the remaining African matches, not just for Aboutrika and the other veteran players, but the entire club. An appearance at the Club World Cup would be a welcome consolation.
Ahly and national team captain Wael Gomaa said that the team's international players needed to put the heavy defeat against the Black Stars aside. "It was not our day,” he said. “We should just turn this page and focus on the Coton Sport game. Ahly players are experienced enough to forget defeat and concentrate on the coming task." Al Ahly, who drew the first leg in Cameroon 1-1, have also struggled to deal with the lack of domestic football in the struggling country.
Player to watch
Having failed to score a goal in South Africa in the first leg, Esperance need to play a careful game at home, preventing Orlando Pirates many scoring opportunities. One of the players who will be tasked to keep things tight at the back for the Blood and Gold is Ghanaian defender Harrison Afful. The 27-year-old, who was Esperance's hero in the 2011 final against Wydad Casablanca when he came on as a substitute in the second leg and scored the match-winning goal, is a solid defender who is also capable of turning a match going forward. After a number of impressive performances this season, it is easy to see how Afful might star in his fourth final on the trot in November.
9 - The number of times that the final of Africa's premier club competition has been contested between two North African sides. Last year's finalists Esperance and Al Ahly are hoping to make it 10. It is an indication of North Africa's strength in recent years that the region has been represented 12 times in the last eight finals, with Coton Sport (2008), Heartland FC (2009) and TP Mazembe (2009 and 2010) the only gatecrashers at the North African party.
What they said
"We must remember to be humble against Coton Sport. There is nothing impossible in football, and the Cameroonians still have an opportunity [to advance]", Al Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef.
Have your say
Can Ahly balance the defeat in Ghana, Aboutrika's retirement and the big second leg?