African glory hangs in the balance
© AFP

Al Ahly and Esperance have all to play for in the return leg of the CAF Champions League final in Tunisia on 17 November after the two sides played to a 1-1 draw in Alexandria’s Borg El-Arab Stadium in Sunday's first leg. Defending champions Esperance are bidding to become the fifth team to successfully defend their title, while Al Ahly, who have won the showpiece of African club football a record six times, are looking for their first success since 2008. With the winner of the competition representing the continent in December's FIFA World Club Cup, both teams will go all out in the return leg to secure victory.

A tribute and a fast start
Sunday's game was only the second match in Egypt to be played in front of supporters since February's Port Said tragedy, and the game took place in an army stadium in Alexandria with 20,000 Al Ahly fans present along with a small contingent of travellers from Tunisia. A moment of silence for the victims of the tragedy was observed before the game and photographs of those who died were displayed throughout the match. The host Red Devils responded to the atmosphere by taking the game to their opponents in the early going.

Mohamed Aboutrika, playing his first game after a two-month suspension, went close to opening the scoring in the first half, as did Mohamed ‘Gedo’ Nagy. The Esperance defence, led by inspirational goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia, managed to withhold all the pressure that came their way. Cherifia similarly was also instrumental in The Tunisian side’s goalless draw at Wydad Casablanca in last year's final first leg, laying the foundation for their 1-0 aggregate victory. Somewhat against the run of play the visiting Blood and Gold took the lead four minutes after the half-time restart when Al Ahly goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy gifted Esperance a goal when he failed to get to a Khalil Chammam corner, and Walid Hichri got his head to the ball and nudged it over the line. Al Ahly assumed even greater thrust in search of an equaliser, forcing goalkeeper Cherifia to be at his best to thwart attack after attack. Coach Hossam El Badry brought on Mohamed Barakat, El-Sayed Hamdi and Emad Meteab in an attempt to turn things around, but it was Joseph Yannick Ndjeng at the other end who had the best chance with a free header in the 66th minute from another corner, but the Cameroonian pulled his shot just wide.

Just when it seemed too late for an equaliser, it was Hamdy who ultimately gave the hosts a share of the spoils. With just two minutes remaining on the clock, Ahmed Fathi split the defence in two and found striker Hamdi, who had escaped his marker. The Egyptian international's first-time ball gave Cherifia no chance and sent the home crowd into a frenzy. They nearly had even more to cheer about in injury time, when Hamdy had another chance, but missed the mark in final moments.

Moment of the game
Al Ahly dominated proceedings in the first half and should have taken the lead in the 33rd minute when Aboutrika found himself with the goal at his mercy after being picked out by Ahmed Fathi. However, from close range, the veteran striker put the ball over the bar, and the 33-year-old missed another good chance in the 73rd minute after being set up by Walid Soliman, but his effort went straight into Cherifia's grateful hands.

Player of the game
Although he conceded a late equaliser for the home side, Moez Ben Cherifia was in top form to deny Al Ahly victory. The 21-year-old Tunisian international goalkeeper pulled off breathtaking saves from attempts by Gedo, Mohamed Aboutrika and Abdullah Al Saied.

The stat
6 –
The number of times a team has come back to win the two-legged African final after drawing the first match at home. Al Ahly were involved in two of those occasions, first in 2006, when they were held to a 1-1 by CS Sfaxien at home but won the return leg 1-0, and a year later when they secured a goalless draw away to Etoile du Sahel, but lost the return leg in Cairo 3-1.

What they said
"I am satisfied with the draw, the match was very difficult, so it felt like a win for us today. The performance of Ahly players was affected by the long football stoppage in Egypt,” Al Ahly coach Hossam El Badry