Home Sports Football Daggers drawn as AL-Ahly and Esperance meet in CAF CL second leg...

Daggers drawn as AL-Ahly and Esperance meet in CAF CL second leg final

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When Al Ahly and Esperance take to the field for the second leg of the  CAF Champions League final in Cairo on tonight  two unlikely stars could hold the key to continental glory – goalkeepers Mostafa Shobeir and Amanallah Memmiche.

KBC Channel 1 is set to broadcast the match kicking off at 8pm East Africa time.

With the first leg in Tunisia ending in a goalless stalemate, the tie is delicately poised, with defences very much on top after a tactical chess match in Rades.

At the heart of those rock-solid rearguards have been two stoppers who have emerged as revelations after being handed their chance due to injuries to Ahly captain Mohamed El Shenawy and Esperance’s Moez Ben Cherifia respectively.

For 24-year-old Shobeir, following in the footsteps of his father Ahmed – himself an Ahly and Egypt great between the posts – it has been a whirlwind rise to prominence.

Yet the youngster has grasped his opportunity with both hands, not conceding in any of his eight appearances since being installed as Swiss coach Marcel Koller’s first choice.

Shobeir was exceptional in shutting out Esperance last weekend, shielded superbly by a backline of Mohamed Hany, stand-in skipper Ramy Rabia, Mohamed Abdelmonem and substitute Karim Fouad, who was introduced early after an injury to Ali Maaloul.

At the opposite end, Memmiche’s emergence has been equally remarkable. Turning 20 just last month, the youngster was initially a deputy to long-serving captain Ben Cherifia before usurping him between the posts and not looking back.

The Tunisian has kept a scarcely believable 11 clean sheets from his 12 Champions League outings this term, with only a Yassine Meriah own goal and penalty conceded blotting his copybook in a rare off-day against Al Hilal.

His handling was exemplary when Hussein El Shahat briefly threatened to breach the visitors’ rearguard of Mohamed Ben Ali, Algerian Mohamed Tougai and Amine Ben Hamida in the first leg.

With both sides boasting such brilliance in goal, backed up by mean defensive units, it promises to be a war of attrition in front of a cacophonous 75,000 crowd at the Cairo International Stadium.

Most pundits make Ahly, record 11-time winners and chasing title number 12 in their 17th final, narrow favourites to prevail over the two legs.

Koller, though, is taking nothing for granted as he pursues an eighth Egyptian or African crown since joining the Red Devils two years ago.

“Ahly and Esperance have equal chances of success,” the Swiss told reporters. “We may have more experienced campaigners, but only what happens on the pitch counts.

“Concentration will be key. One slip could prove decisive between two evenly matched sides.”

Counterpart Miguel Cardoso, who has rebuilt his managerial reputation in Tunisia after a torrid stint at AEK Athens, is similarly wary of the challenge awaiting his side.

“We were unable to capitalise on our chances in the first leg,” the Portuguese said. “Hopefully it’ll be a different story in Cairo.

“It was disappointing not being able to exploit home advantage, but this final is far from settled.”

Tradition favours Ahly – only two of the previous 10 teams held 0-0 at home in the first leg have gone on to lift the title.

But if Memmiche and Shobeir can carry their stunning form into the weekend’s decisive encounter, Esperance may just emerge with a surprise triumph.

 

 

 

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