Johannesburg (AFP) – Al Ahly of Egypt can draw comfort from history as they face a win-or-bust CAF Champions League semi-final return match at home to Etoile Sahel of Tunisia this weekend.
The winners of the elite African club competition a record eight times have not gone more than three seasons this century without reaching the final.
Ahly last featured in a Champions League title decider in 2013, defeating Orlando Pirates of South Africa, so they must eliminate former winners Etoile to maintain the proud record.
Etoile, who stunned Ahly in the 2007 final by winning away after only drawing at home, take a 2-1 lead into the second leg Sunday.
Alaya Brigui gave the Tunisian outfit a first half lead that Saleh Gomaa cancelled midway through the second period before Mohamed Amine Ben Amor struck the winning goal.
Ahly coach Hossam El Badry believes the Gomaa strike could be crucial with away goals counting double in the event of an aggregate tie.
“The goal scored by Saleh in Tunisia will make our mission a little easier,” he told reporters ahead of the second leg at the 85,000-seat Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria.
“We wasted several other chances during the first leg, but the home match will be different,” he added, without offering clues as to what could change.
El Badry, who guided the “Red Devils” to 2012 Champions League glory, said the absence of suspended midfielder Ahmed Fathy would not upset his strategy.
“I am sorry Ahmed will miss the second leg, but we have options in that position,” was his reassuring message to Ahly supporters ahead of the north African showdown.
A boost for Ahly is that the authorities have agreed that 40,000 spectators can attend the match in a country where most matches are staged behind closed doors for security reasons.
France-born Etoile coach Hubert Velud is chasing a second African club title in as many seasons having guided TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo to 2016 CAF Confederation Cup glory.
While the tie seems delicately balanced with the ability of Ahly to keep a clean sheet potentially crucial, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco are favoured to win the other semi-final.
The former champions forced a 0-0 first-leg draw at USM Alger of Algeria in a dreary duel virtually devoid of scoring opportunities.
Rival coaches Hussein Amotta of Wydad and Belgian Paul Put of USM offered different reasons for the bore draw.
“I think the state of the pitch affected our finishing as we like to play the ball on the ground,” said Amotta. “It is a tricky scoreline as a USM goal would put us in trouble.”
Put added to a recent spate of complaints about African referees at national team and club levels, saying his team were “shamefully denied a penalty”.
Wydad have won all five home Champions League matches without conceding a goal and their victims included title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa.
A draw at 2016 runners-up Zamalek of Egypt was the best away result achieved by USM this season and a loss to CAPS United in Zimbabwe the most disappointing.
What Wydad lack going into the second leg in Casablanca Saturday is a consistent goal scorer while Oussama Darfalou of USM has netted five times.
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