This Saturday, the identity of the first of the two finalists for the CAF Champions League 2006 will be known. The semi-final return leg of Africa's most prestigious club competition will also decide one of the two contenders for the FIFA Club World Championship Japan 2006.
Although Al Alhy have taken a major step towards qualification by recording a 2-0 win over ASEC Mimosas in the other semi-final, the game between the Orlando Pirates of Johannesburg and Tunisia's Club Sportif Sfaxien remains wide open. The North African club will be determined to forge a path towards a first African title at the expense of a Pirates side that have won the tournament once before, in 1995.
A long way to the top
For CS Sfaxien, the task is a weighty one. After the repeated failures of Tunisian clubs in this competition, most notably last season's beaten finalists Etoile du Sahel, Sfaxien are intent on blazing a trail.
Founded in 1928 under the name of Club Tunisien, the club reached Tunisia's national football division in 1947. And there it has remained ever since, gradually carving out a niche for itself among the country's elite.
In 1962, Club Tunisien became Club Sportif Sfaxien de Tunisie, in the process swapping their green and red strip for black and white. The club remained as popular as ever with the change which ushered in numerous honours, including seven Tunisian titles (1969, 1971, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1995, 2005), three national cups (1971, 1995, 2004), one league cup (2003) and two Arab Champions League successes (2000, 2004).
However, at continental level, success has not come so easily, with only one CAF Cup to show for their efforts, won in 1998 against the Senegalese outfit ASC Jeanne d'Arc.
Training and ambition
With a combination of consistency, popular support and an adroit training policy, CS Sfaxien have seen the emergence of a talented generation of players, of whom the internationals Hammadi Ben Rhaiem and Mokhtar Dhouib are the best representatives.
Such is their progress that the club now hopes to step up a further echelon by adding a new entry to its African honours list.
As they stand one step away from a final, the town of Sfax is holding its breath and buzzing in anticipation of the big encounter. The Tunisian side's coaching staff are confident they can progress, especially as they will be able to field a full-strength team after the return of the injured Karim Nafti and central defender Wissem Abdi, as well as the hitherto suspended Issam Merdassi and Tarak Ziadi. On the eve of such an important clash, their coach Mrad Mahjoub could scarcely hope for a brighter outlook.
However, the South Africans will not be coming to Tunisia with fear in their hearts. Having dominated the first leg on home soil without actually finding the back of the net, the Pirates at least kept a clean sheet. So, for Milutin Sredojevic's charges, the equation is a simple one: score a goal and their opponents will be in serious trouble.
Back in the Tunisian camp, the team can point to certain psychological advantages of their own. Buoyed by their first-place finish in the group phase, the CSS players hope to rediscover the form that saw them claim the scalp of favourites and reigning champions Al Alhy, previously unbeaten for two years on African soil. The forwards Asamoah Frimpong, Zoubeir Essafi and Blaise Koissy will all be trying to put the result beyond doubt as early as possible, securing CSS that much-coveted place in the final.