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Coach’s masterstroke takes Esperance to CAF Champions League semis

Johannesburg (AFP) – A masterstroke by Esperance coach Moine Chaabani inspired the Tunisian club to win a CAF Champions League quarter-final penalty shootout on Saturday and set up a showdown against Egyptian giants Al Ahly. 

Four-time African champions Esperance were leading Algerian visitors Chabab Belouizdad 1-0 in a second  leg but trailing 2-1 overall with eight minutes remaining when the coach gambled.

Chaabani believed his side would score again and force a shootout so he took off goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia and introduced Farouk Ben Mustapha, a shot-stopper with a reputation for saving penalties.

Esperance scored again on 87 minutes through Mohamed Ben Romdhane to triumph 2-0, level the tie on aggregate and Ben Mustapha saved three spot-kicks while Esperance converted three to win 3-2 on penalties.

Chaabani is hoping to become only the second coach after Portuguese Manuel Jose to win the Champions League three times after guiding Esperance to glory in 2018 and 2019.

After building a 2-0 first-leg lead last weekend, quarter-finals debutants Belouizdad contained Esperance until the 67th minute when Abdelraouf Benguit scored near Tunis.

Substitute Benguit later put Esperance 3-2 ahead in the shootout and Ben Mustapha then foiled Chemseddine Nessakh to complete a dramatic comeback triumph.

The Tunisians will host defending champions Ahly in a repeat of the 2018 final on June 18 or 19 with the return match the following weekend.

Defender Yasser Ibrahim scored on 11 minutes as Ahly held Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa 1-1 in Pretoria to advance 3-1 on aggregate.

– Massive blow –

The early headed goal off a corner for the visitors was a massive blow to Sundowns as they had to find the net at least four times to survive, but never looked like achieving that feat. 

Another defender, Mosa Lebusa, levelled after 30 minutes, also with a header after a corner, but the home side hardly troubled goalkeeper Mohamed el Shenawy in the second half.

Ahly are coached by South African Pitso Mosimane, who last September became the first sub-Saharan African to coach the Cairo club since it was formed in 1907.  

The other semi-final, between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa, will bring together teams who meet at the group stage with each winning at home.

Wydad host the first leg and if they eliminate Chiefs, will stage the single-match final at their 67,000-capacity Stade Mohammed V ground in Casablanca.

The Moroccans had to wait until the third minute of added time before Walid el Karti scored to earn a harder than expected 1-0 win over Mouloudia Alger of Algeria and a 2-1 overall victory.

A late Clatous Chama goal completed a 3-0 triumph for Simba of Tanzania over Chiefs in Dar es Salaam, but the South Africans progressed 4-3 on aggregate to a first semi-finals appearance.

Recalled John Bocco scored in each half and the goal from Zambian Chama set up a tense finish for Chiefs, who kept nine clean sheets in 11 previous CAF matches this season.   

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