02 May 2018 09:26
The mini-league stage kick off couldn't have been more entertaining, as continental giants and former champions Al Ahly of Egypt and Esperance of Tunisia lock horns in the group stage curtain raiser on Friday in Alexandria.
Record eight-time winners Ahly entertain North African neighbours and familiar foes Esperance at the 86000-seater Borg El Arab Stadium, just outside Egypt's second largest city Alexandria, with both sides drawn together in Group A of the lucrative group stage. Botswana's Township Rollers and Uganda's Kampala City Council Authority complete the pack.
With ten titles between the two sides, eight for Ahly and two for Esperance; it's a highly anticipated game between familiar foes, with 16 previous meetings at the continental level between 1990 and 2017. All but two of the previous meetings between the rivals were in the premier continental club championship.
The duo first clashed in the then African Cup of Champions Clubs (now CAF Champions League) at the 1/8th round in 1990. After two barren draws Esperance won via penalties to progress. The second meeting came 11 years later, at the last four of the 2001 CAF Champions League. The tie ended in a stalemate again but Ahly had the upper hand on away goals after a 1-1 tie on aggregate, going on to lift the title after beating Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa 4-1 on aggregate in the final.
In 2007, they renewed their rivalry at the group stage, with each side winning at home; 3-0 for Ahly and 1-0 for Esperance. The rivals crossed each other path yet another time in 2010 at the semis, and Esperance prevailed on away goals after a 2-2 tie.
Ahly and Esperance were paired in the same group for the 2011 edition. Esperance won 1-0 at home, followed by a 1-1 draw in Cairo in a year that the “Blood and Gold” club went on to win their second title in the history of the premier continental club championship.
The meeting which has now become a regular fixture on the African football calendar saw both sides reach the final in 2012. After a 1-1 draw in Alexandria, Ahly defied the odds to win 2-1 in Rades and claim their seventh title.
The North African giants met again in 2015 when they met at the CAF Confederation Cup group stage. Ahly won both legs; 3-0 in Suez and 1-0 away in Rades.
The last encounter was last year in the 2017 Champions League quarter finals. A 2-2 draw in Alexandria was followed by an away win for Al Ahly 2-1 in their fond venue of Rades, to see the Red Devils through.
Of the 16 meetings, Ahly has emerged victors on six occasions, three for Esperance with seven meetings failing to produce a winner. Ahly has scored 18 goals compared to 11 for Esperance.
Ahly’s 19 African club titles and Esperance’s five makes the fixture one of the most sought after especially with a place at the last four at stake in the race for the 2,500,00 US Dollars prize-money and the ticket to represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup in United Arab Emirates in December.
Both sides recently claimed domestic league titles. Al Ahly extended their dominance in the Egyptian Premier League with their 39th title, while Esperance grabbed their 28th Tunisian League title. More similarities this year come as both sides lost their hand on the domestic Cup, with Esperance losing in second round of Tunisian Cup, while Ahly exited the Egyptian Cup at the quarters earlier in the week.
“This is a completely different game now", Al Ahly coach Hossam El Badry told CAFonline.com as his team prepared for Friday’s clash.
“The group stage matches are different from knockout ones. But it's always good to start with a victory, and that's what we will be playing for”.
Being struck by many absentees, El Badry finds himself in a difficult situation before the mini-league kick off. Moroccan striker Waleed Azaro will miss the game through injury, while there are doubts about the availability of defender Saad Samir, Tunisian left back Ali Maaloul and Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi.
“It's a tough situation no doubt, but we will make sure to have the suitable players for the match. We have to start in a positive way as our target is nothing but the title itself", concluded the 2012 Champions League winning coach.
04.5.2018 19H00 Alexandria Ahly (Egypt) vs Esperance (Tunisia)
04.5.2018 16H00 Gaborone Township Rollers (Botswana) vs KCCA (Uganda)
04.5.2018 19H00 Algiers MC Alger (Algeria) vs Difaa El Jadidi (Morocco)
05.5.2018 13H00 Lubumbashi TP Mazembe (DR Congo) vs ES Setif (Algeria)
05.5.2018 16H00 Lome AS Port (Togo) vs Horoya (Guinea)
05.5.2018 19H00 Pretoria Sundowns (South Africa) vs Wydad (Morocco)
05.5.2018 13H00 Ndola Zesco (Zambia) vs Swallows (Swaziland)
05.5.2018 16H00 Luanda Primeiro Agosto (Angola) vs Etoile (Tunisia)
*All times are in GMT