African club giants Al Ahly of Egypt have headed across the north of the continent on a short trip this week hoping to keep alive their chances of claiming a seventh CAF Champions League crown. Ahly have won three of the last five continental titles and are widely regarded as African football’s top club side, but they take a tenuous 2-1 lead to Esperance of Tunisia for the second leg of this year’s semi-final on Sunday.
Just under 24 hours before that match at the November 7 Stadium in Rades, Algeria’s JS Kabylie will seek to overcome a two-goal deficit from the first leg of their semi-final against defending champions TP Mazembe Englebert. JSK will host the Congolese champions in Tizi-Ouzou on Saturday night after losing 3-1 in Lubumbashi in the first leg of their tie at the start of the month.
Ahly’s trip to Tunisia comes against the backdrop of a tempestuous first leg, more off the field than on it, which the Cairo giants won 2-1. But crowd trouble could not take away from the quality of play by both teams in that contest, and Esperance will be optimistic of turning around the deficit after Oussama Daragi’s vital away goal in Cairo on 3 October. Because of that strike, a 1-0 victory will be enough for the Tunisians to book their first trip to the tournament's ultimate match since they lost back-to-back finals in 1999 and 2000.
Al Ahly were hoping to have Hossam Ghali back after a four-match suspension, but the former Tottenham winger hurt himself in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Sunday, in which an Egyptian side with several Al Ahly players lost surprisingly away in Niger.
Patience key for Kabylie
JSK’s young Olympic international Mohamed Khoutir Ziti said a measured approach was needed from the home side despite recognising the size of the task at hand. “We will avoid rushing too much at the start of the match,” he said, denying any pre-match nerves from the Algerians. “We will try to manage the situation, but by half-time we need to have an advantage to give us the hope of beating them by two goals. It is a question of sticking together to rescue the situation.”
Mazembe have lost their talisman Tresor Mputu to a lengthy ban, but they showed no ill effects despite the striker's absence when they beat JSK in the first leg. Mazembe can't be faulted for the quality of their preparations, as the side flew on an overnight jet to Algeria on Sunday, and they will have had almost a week of preparation in north Africa before Saturday night’s kick-off.
The aggregate winners of the two matches advance to the final, to be played over two legs at the end of October and in mid-November. The winner of the 2010 CAF Champions League will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates at the end of the year.