A great international club football rivalry resumes on Saturday when Esperance of Tunisia host Al-Ahly of Egypt in the pick of a four-match CAF Champions League schedule. They clashed at the semi-final stage last year with a controversial goal from Nigerian Michael Eneramo giving the Tunisian 'Blood and Gold' victory over the Egyptian 'Red Devils' over two legs.
Beaten by TP Mazembe of Congo DR in the final last year, Esperance have bounced back with many of that team and hit five unanswered goals past ASPAC of Benin and Diaraf of Senegal in home matches this season. Ahly, chasing a record seventh title, have been less impressive en route to the eight-club group phase, with narrow aggregate victories over SuperSport United of South Africa and ZESCO United of Zambia.
The Tunisians were the happier team after the opening Group B matches two weeks ago as they forced a 1-1 draw at Mouloudia Alger of Algeria while the Egyptians shared six goals with Moroccan visitors Wydad Casablanca. Midfielder and captain Oussama Darragi was on target for Esperance and strikers Emad Moteab and Dominique da Silva and veteran defender Wael Gomaa were the Ahly marksmen.
An abdominal injury rules Mauritanian Da Silva out of the match in Tunis suburb Rades, adding to a casualty list that includes experienced midfielders Mohamed Barakat and Mohamed Aboutreika. Defender Sherif Abdul-Fadil has been included in the Ahly squad despite a nightmare outing against Wydad as he conceded a first-minute own goal and his last-minute blunder gifted the visitors an equaliser.
Wydad boast a powerful strike force in Mouhssine Iajour and Congo-born Fabrice Ondama and will expect to collect maximum points Saturday when Mouloudia play in the Moroccan commercial capital. The Algerians are not in good shape as they narrowly avoided relegation from the national league 12 months after winning the title and financial problems triggered the resignation of coach Noureddine Zekri and exodus of some stars.
After both Group A openers were also drawn, Al-Hial of Sudan entertain Raja Casablanca of Morocco in Omdurman on Friday and Enyimba of Nigeria tackle Cotonsport Garoua Saturday in northern Cameroon. Hilal could be the team to watch under Serb coach Milutin Sredojevic as they have reached the semi-finals twice in the last four seasons and have many experienced international footballers.
Zimbabwean Edward Sadomba scored twice - one a superb solo effort and the other a tap-in - in a 2-2 deadlock at Enyimba and is leading scorer on five goals with Iajour and Alfred Luputa of ZESCO in the competition. Depleted Cotonsport did well to hold three-time champions Raja goalless and start slight favourites against Enyimba, who share with Ahly and Mazembe the distinction of successfuly defending the Champions League title.