CAF Champions League

Outsiders set to scrap for African glory

Algeria's ES Setif players celebrate after Najid Rachid (#23) scored
© AFP

Just one match remains in Africa's biggest club competition: the second leg of the CAF Champions League final between Algeria's ES Setif and AS Vita Club of Congo DR. At stake is not only continental bragging rights, but the chance to represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December. The odds are slightly tilted toward the Algerian side, who secured a valuable 2-2 draw in Kinshasa in the first leg and can afford a low-scoring draw against Vita at home on Saturday to win the trophy they last claimed in 1988.

The match
Both clubs are chasing a second-ever title, with the Congolese club - losing finalists in 1981 - triumphing in 1973. In the first leg, Vita Club, who need to win the competition to play in the Champions League next season after finishing third domestically, dominated proceedings, but twice had to come from a goal behind to secure a deserved draw. Surprisingly Vita's trusted forwards Ndombe Mubele and Yunus Sentamu shot blanks in the first leg, prompting coach Florent Ibenge to say: “We certainly have good strikers, but in a big game, it takes great players. In the first leg, it was not their day.” Vita travelled to Algeria on Wednesday with a squad of 20 players to prepare for the second half of the tie.

Ibenge's Setif counterpart, Kheireddine Madoui, will have a full squad to chose from with the return to match fitness of joint-top scorer El Hedi Belameiri, who played only a bit part in the first leg due to an injury. "We started the African adventure, my players and myself, when nobody believed in us. It is true that we lack experience, but believe me, I personally have matured during the campaign,” said Madoui.

Saturday is a day of significance in Algerian history as it marks the beginning of the revolution in 1954, that ended with Algeria gaining independence. "The choice of the date of the match is not accidental. The club management has made it a point of honour to schedule this meeting on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Revolution. My players need to be inspired by the spirit of the heroes of November and be ready to battle because Algerians expect them to triumph,” said Madoui.

After winning both matches at home in the qualifying rounds, Setif lost their home form in the group stage and drew all three matches. However, they secured an important 2-1 home win against TP Mazembe in the semi-finals to open the door to the championship match. Vita Club, on the other hand, have not had an impressive away form – losing three matches and drawing two on the road. But the away games that counted – the penultimate group game against Zamalek and the semi-final clash against CS Sfaxien – resulted in victories. So all is certainly not lost for Les Dauphins Noirs, who can also draw some consolation from the fact that in eight of the 20 ties in which the first leg of the final ended in a draw, the away team in the second leg won the title.

Player to watch
For Setif, the maths is simple: If they do not concede a goal, they will win the African Champions League. Although, of course, there are many other permutations which would lead to a Setif success, they will be assured of the title if they keep a clean sheet, and that will be the primary aim of Sofiane Khedairia. Setif's France-born goalkeeper recently stressed the importance of the event: “[Playing at] the Club World Cup would be the pinnacle of my career, even though I’m only 25. It’s a tournament that I used to follow on television as a boy. It would be fantastic to actually take part in it.”

The Stat 53 -The number of matches that Algerian club ES Setif have played in the history of the competition. They have won 26, drawn 12 and lost 15 times. If they manage to avoid defeat or a high-scoring draw in their 54th match, they will win their second title.

What they said
“We still have the chance to win the trophy and that is what we will do in Algeria. We dominated the first game, and we created a lot of opportunities. I also think luck turned its back on us and smiled on our opponent. But we will give it our all to come home with the cup,” ASVita coach Florent Ibenge.

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