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Football

Al Ahly, Esperance to renew acquaintances in Champions League final

CAF

African club football’s two giants will collide next month as Al Ahly and Esperance prepare to do battle over two legs for the right to be crowned champions of the TotalEnergies CAF Champions League.

The Egyptian and Tunisian heavyweights booked their places in the final with dramatic semi-final victories over TP Mazembe and Mamelodi Sundowns respectively after the second-leg matches were played on Friday night.

While Al Ahly had to produce a remarkable late fight to see off Mazembe 3-0 in Cairo on Friday night, Esperance held their nerve to edge out Sundowns 1-0 in Pretoria to qualify 2-0 on aggregate.

Record 11-time winners Al Ahly will be tipped by many as they target an unprecedented fourth Champions League crown in five years, but know all too well they cannot underestimate the considerable threat posed by the Tunisian giants.

It was only four years ago that Esperance shocked the Egyptian giants in the 2018 final as the Tunisians won two titles in a row.

With the first leg set for Tunis on 18 May, followed by the return in Cairo a week later, a monumental tussle awaits between two sets of battle-hardened continental heavyweights.

For Al Ahly, the challenge is clear – maintain their remarkable levels of consistency on Africa’s biggest stage by getting the better of their old foes from across the Mediterranean.

Marcel Koller’s star-studded side, led by the irrepressible Percy Tau, demonstrated their big-game mentality with that dramatic turnaround against Mazembe, recovering from the setback of having a goal ruled out to ultimately run out comfortable winners.

Esperance, by contrast, arrived in the final the hard way after holding firm amid intense pressure to repel Mamelodi Sundowns on the back of a narrow first-leg lead in Tunis.

Coach Miguel Cardoso has instilled his trademark resilience and tactical discipline into his side, who will need to draw on all those qualities to upset the odds against the African club game’s preeminent force.

After starring in both semi-final ties, Amanullah Memmich will likely be key to Esperance’s hopes of springing a surprise, with the goalkeeper in inspired form.

All the ingredients are there for a final of the highest quality to crown the new kings of African football. 

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