LONDON: Al-Ahly may be taking a 3-1 lead into the second leg of the CAF Champions League final against Esperance de Tunis on Friday, but their coach Patrice Carteron has told his team to be prepared for “war” in their bid to win a ninth continental crown.
The first leg in Alexandria last weekend was an extremely feisty and bad-tempered affair that will be remembered for two controversial VAR (video assistant referee) penalties for Al-Ahly — Walid Soliman converted both.
Furious Esperance players and coaches accused the Egyptian side’s striker Walid Azaro of diving to win the first spot-kick and of feigning injury and tearing his shirt for the second.
The Tunisians accused the Algerian referee of bias and the Cairo club of pre-match dirty tricks, including delaying their arrival at the stadium and police harassment.
No CAF Champions League final is a quiet affair, but after the first leg today’s clash is expected to be on the red-hot end of heated. And Carteron has warned his side they cannot take anything for granted despite their two-goal advantage.
“We are fortunate to have many players sufficiently experienced to deal with this kind of match,” the Al-Ahly coach said.
“I hope the team receives special protection and that the Tunisian government ensures we have a football match, and not a war in the stands.”
Walid Azaro is supsended for Friday's do-or-die clash.
Carteron is only too well aware that Al-Ahly will need to be at their most-levelled best to ensure they lift the trophy tonight. They go into the clash without Azaro, right, who has been banned for two matches following the incident last week. CAF did not elaborate on why the ban had been imposed but it is thought it was because the Moroccan was ultimately shown to have ripped his shirt in the first leg.
While Al-Ahly will rue the loss of the man who has scored six goals in the competition so far, second only to TP Mazembe’s Ben Malango, the sense of grievance — they have appealed the ban — could well drive them to put in the necessary backs-against-the-wall performance in Tunis.
That aim of righting some wrongs will definitely be a motivating factor for Esperance. Their coach Moine Chaabani is still smarting from what he sees as the injustices of the first leg. But Chaabani, promoted when Khaled Ben Yahia was fired after a first-leg loss to Primeiro in the semifinals, is confident his side can win the Champions League for the third time.
“We can recover from 3-1 behind — there is still hope. A key issue is keeping my players focused on football with so much else going on,” he said.
Chaabani is angry at the losses of center-back Dhaouadi and Cameroonian midfield enforcer Kom, whose second yellow cards of the competition triggered automatic one-match suspensions.
“Dhaouadi was booked for no reason, so was Kom. It is as if they were targeted (by the referee) from the get go.
“I am livid at what happened in Alexandria, but have to keep it together for the sake of the team. We were subjected to an extreme injustice.”