Judging on the criteria of history and recent achievements, the upcoming CAF Champions League final would appear to be something of a mismatch.

However, the holders and favourites, Al Ahly, will know from painful experience that they will have it anything but easy in their pursuit of a record-equaling fifth title. The Egyptian giants' might have been proclaimed the CAF Team of the Century and boast a myriad of other impressive honours, but the unheralded CS Sfaxien of Tunisia will arrive in Cairo on Sunday for the first leg of the final without any sense of inferiority.

With a return leg to come on 11 November, the match represents the penultimate act in determining the African representative for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, with a match against Oceania champions Auckland City of New Zealand in the first round already lying in wait.

Cloistered out along the desert highway between Cairo and Alexandria, Al Ahly have taken refugee from the pressure of friends, families and fans by checking into a resort this week as they fine-tune their preparations. The Egyptians, widely considered to be the Arab world's most popular club, have barely endured a hiccup during their title defence thus far but, tellingly, their only defeat this year's competition - indeed in all matches in 2006 - came against Sfaxien, whose ambitions have taken a marked upturn since they first set out on the long road to the final. 

Unbeaten run ended
The Tunisians, in fact, only successfully negotiated the route after pulling off two miraculous aggregate comebacks wins in the early knockout rounds when faced with daunting away ties in Congo DR and Morocco. Already remarkable, their achievement in reaching the final becomes positively amazing when one considers that they were the only side in the eight-team league phase of the competition to have never before won Africa's top club prize.

Few gave them any chance of making any meaningful progress, particularly when drawn in the same group as the holders, but CS Sfaxien immediately set about proving their credentials. Their home win over Al Ahly in July ended the Egyptians' two-year run without defeat on African soil and, more importantly for the Tunisians, gave them the momentum they needed in their quest for an unlikely semi-final place.

Much of their success against the likes of JS Kabylie of Algeria and Ghana's Asante Kotoko in the group phase, and then Orlando Pirates of South Africa in the last four, was attributed to an inner confidence that grew with each passing game. As for coach Mrad Mahjoub, the man who has led CS Sfaxien further than anyone dared dream, he now says with a touch of Cantona-esque license: "We have achieved our dream, now we have to bear fruit."

Mahjoub, a former coach of the Tunisian national team, believes that his side must do more than merely attempt to 'shut up shop' in Cairo. He said: "To obtain a good result away from home is not only a matter of just putting up a good defensive performance. It is the fruit of vigilance in defence, a fighting spirit and a quick passing game in the middle, and the taking of opportunities up front."