Tunisia's Etoile Sahel and Egypt's Al Ahly played out a goalless draw in Sousse in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final on Saturday. The result, which extends Ahly's 16-month unbeaten run to 50 matches, leaves the second leg in Cairo on 12 November tantalisingly poised with a berth for the winners at the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005 raising the stakes. Etoile, runners-up last year to Nigeria's Enyimba, may have failed to take a lead from the home leg but they will not be too despondent having prevented the free-scoring Egyptians from returning with an away goal.
"Yes we were extra cautious but you saw what Ahly are capable of in the very few moments during which we lost our concentration," said Etoile's Bosnian coach Mehmed Bazdarevic. "They are a very dangerous team. They came to Tunisia as favourites and we should not forget that."
In an even contest of few chances, it was Ahly who found their rhythm first with the dynamic Hassan Mustafa blazing over after only seven minutes.
Six minutes later, Mohamed Barakat surged through the Tunisian defence and crossed for Emad Moteab, but to the young forward's amazement his strike from a tight angle was deflected off target by Seif Ghazal's leg.
On the quarter hour mark, Etoile's Nigerian striker Emeka Opara had the home side's first effort, a 35-yard pile-driver that Ahly's Essam Al Hadari did well to hold onto.
In front of 35,000 screaming supporters packed inside the Sousse Olympic stadium, the Egyptian keeper was not having his most secure of games. Etoile's teenage striker Gilson could not capitalise on a slip-up, sending his overhead kick wide of goal.
But it was Ahly, cheered on by a sizeable away following, who upped the tempo after the break displaying the kind of smart passing movements that have seen them conquer all before them for more than a year now.
Mustafa came closest to breaking the deadlock in the 65th minute. He dribbled past two defenders but shot wide from the edge of the penalty area.
There were a few more scary moments but defences remained on top. The scoreless draw now leaves Ahly favourites to clinch their second African crown in four years.
"We were surprised by their defensive attitude especially because they were
playing on their own ground," said Ahly skipper Ahmed El Sayed "We tried to win as we always do, but I think victory has only been delayed until we meet again in Cairo."