Al Ahly have reached the final of this year’s Caf Champions League and will confront title holders Esperance in what promises to be an epic matchup
Al Ahly are no strangers to the top end of continental competitions. The African Club of the Century are six-time Champions League winners, and have an unrivalled record of success at the highest peak of African football. The domestic league had been somewhat of a procession for the Red Devils before recent violence in Egypt halted the competition. They have won a record 36 league titles, however, have failed to annex the continent’s premier club competition since 2008 when they last won it.
All may change this year. After Gedo’s early goal against Nigeria’s Sunshine Stars in the semi-final return leg last weekend, Ahly’s march to the final seemed to be shrouded in a cloak of inevitability. The first leg in Nigeria two weeks ago ended 3-3. The Agagu Boys were impressive in front of their home fans to push Ahly right to the edge but lacked the same drive and intensity during the return leg at the Cairo Stadium.
The eerie silence of the atmosphere during the closed door meeting seemed to have favoured Ahly players, who overcame their Nigerian challenge with a steely professionalism and a clinical composure. Perhaps it was the partisan home crowd in the first leg and the emotional buoyancy of the occasion that propelled the Sunshine Stars to put three past the Red Devils, but that trick failed to work in Cairo, as the Egyptians controlled the game from start to finish.
Gedo was one of the heroes of the first leg’s thrilling tie. He scored twice and looked to have sealed the points for his side before Osasco Precious secured a late equaliser for the locals. Once more, the Ahly striker made a key impact, scoring an early goal in Cairo that eventually sealed their win. The front man could have pushed Ahly even further, but he was denied numerous times by the woodwork. Gedo is one of Africa’s finest strikers and accomplished performances in such a high profile game will go a long way to securing his legacy.
The Stars will perhaps be disappointed to have exited the tournament without tormenting Ahly in Egypt. Harrison Egbune’s terrific attempt late on was admirable, but ultimately, the Agagu Boys were impotent in Cairo. Still, for a maiden campaign in the tournament, the Sunshine Stars have impressed and will hopefully return to the competition in the near future.
In the other semi-final, defending champions Esperance Tunis edged 2009 and 2010 winners TP Mazembe to reach their third final in a row. After a goalless draw in the first leg, Mohamed Ben Mansour’s 70th minute strike decided the fate of the encounter to set the stage for an all North African final.
Esperance and Ahly are among the strongest sides on the continent and their matchup will no doubt be explosive. While the Egyptian team remains the more celebrated of the pair with six continental titles to Esperance’s two, it has been the Tunisians who have been responsible, partly at least, for eliminating the Red Devils from the 2010 and 2011 editions.
Ahly’s eventual victory would be invaluable to Egyptian football that has known severe crises in recent times and could revive their continental dominance once more.