Cairo upset sends Etoile to Japan
© AFP

Etoile Sahel will represent Africa at next month's FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007 after a dramatic and thrilling win away in Egypt on Friday. They beat hot favourites and holders Al Ahly of Egypt 3-1 in the second leg of the CAF Champions League final to win the tie by the same score on aggregate.

It was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition and denied Al Ahly an opportunity to make history. Instead of the Egyptian giants winning a record sixth Champions League title, plus an unprecedented third in a row, the Tunisian club from the coastal city of Sousse seized the trophy for the first time.

After a goalless draw in the first leg a fortnight ago, Etoile Sahel were given little chance of going to the cauldron of the Cairo International stadium and winning against the all-conquering Al Ahly. But they overcame a few early scares to score first and force the hosts on to the back foot, before adding two late goals to ensure a convincing winning scoreline.

It was as much as a gallant Etoile Sahel deserved, prepared to mix it up with the Egyptians instead of waiting for what most thought would be their inevitable fate. Indeed, Etoile served notice of their intentions when a free-kick from Mohamed Ali Nafkha floated just wide of the goal in the third minute, but it was Al Ahly who had the better of the opening exchanges.

Emad Moteab, brought back into the side after being dropped for the first leg, hit the upright after being set up by a mazy run from his strike partner Flavio, the Angola international. Just five minutes later, Moteab went narrowly wide with a snap effort that just sailed over the top after a defensive mix-up.

But on the stroke of half-time Etoile took then lead when Mouri Ogunbiyi, who had won two previous Champions League medals with Enyimba of Nigeria, set up a cross for Sabeur Ben Frej, who dragged the ball back to an unmarked Afouane Gharbi just south of the penalty spot. He picked his spot expertly with a first-time effort, helped by a slight deflection past Al Ahly's goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari.

It was the first goal conceded at home by Al Ahly in this year's Champions League campaign and as the teams went off for the interval, the Egyptians found themselves suddenly needing to score twice to win the tie. Al Ahly coach Manuel Jose immediately brought on the enterprising midfielder Hassan Mostafa and within five minutes the hosts were back level. A free-kick whipped in by Gilberto found a towering Emad Al Nahhas who powered his header home.

But the wheels came off when Al Nahhas committed a professional foul, holding back on the pacy Amine Chemiti and leaving Moroccan referee Abedrarhim El Arjoune with no option but to flash him the red card.
Down to ten men and still needing another goal to avoid defeat on the away goals rule, Al Ahly had their backs to the wall but set about a storming finish. Ahmed Sedik came on to provide width down the flanks but the Etoile defence stood firm.

As the game moved into a dramatic last five minutes of stoppage time, Etoile scored two more to finish off the tie and set up some furious celebrations. Chermiti netted the first of these on the breakaway and then Moussa Nary applied the finishing touch to a night of significant drama.