Sports

May 18, 2024

CAF Champions League: Ahly on verge of 12th title after holding Esperance

CAF Champions League: Ahly on verge of 12th title after holding Esperance

Ahly’s Egyptian midfielder #13 Marwan Attia fights for the ball with Esperance’s Tunisian midfielder #25 Ghaylen Chaalali during the first leg of the CAF Champions League final football match between Tunis’ Esperance Sportive de Tunis and Egypt’s Al-Ahly at Hammadi Agrebi Stadium in Rades on May 18, 2024. (Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP)

Al Ahly of Egypt stayed on course for a record-extending 12th CAF Champions League title by holding hosts Esperance of Tunisia to a 0-0 draw on Saturday in the first leg of the final.

In a match dominated by defences there was only one goal attempt on target in Rades — an 88th-minute shot by Hussein El Shahat for Ahly that was comfortably saved by Amanallah Memmiche.

A goalless stalemate was a predictable outcome as both clubs had kept 11 clean sheets in 12 qualifying, group and knockout matches en route to the title decider.

They meet again next Saturday in Cairo, where Ahly have won five and drawn six of 11 Champions League matches against Esperance.

Ahly coach Marcel Koller started with goalkeeper Mostafa Shobeir, who had not conceded in eight matches leading to the final when deputising for captain Mohamed El Shenawy.

El Shenawy has recovered from a shoulder injury sustained during an Africa Cup of Nations group match against Cape Verde in the Ivory Coast last January and sat on the bench.

Leading Ahly scorer El Shahat was recalled after being an unused substitute in the semi-final victory in Cairo over TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Esperance coach Miguel Cardoso chose a predictable line-up that included two Brazilians, two Algerians a Togolese, and outstanding 20-year-old Tunisian Memmiche.

This was the third time the north African giants had met in the final of the premier African club competition with Ahly winning in 2012 and Esperance succeeding six years later.

The atmosphere in the Stade Hammadi Agrebi, the 60,000-capacity national stadium near Tunis, was electric with home supporters singing, chanting and waving huge flags.

The closest the home side came to scoring in the opening half was after five minutes when Brazilian Rodrigo Rodrigues headed a cross by Houssem Tka across the goal and wide.

Ahly suffered a blow soon after when veteran Ali Maaloul, one of the best overlapping full-backs in Africa, limped off injured and was replaced by Karim Fouad.

Egyptian Emam Ashour complained to the Algerian referee about rough treatment as he made runs from midfield, but his protests were brushed aside.

With half-time approaching, Esperance were awarded a free kick just outside the area and captain Ghaylene Chaalali was not far off target with his attempt.

As the second half reached the halfway stage the crowd grew louder, but there still had not been a goal attempt on target.

Both coaches made numerous changes in the closing stages, but none of the eight replacements could deliver a match-winner.