Caf Champions League final: Esperance seek consecutive wins at Wydad's expense

The Tunisians are aspiring to win back to back titles while their Moroccan opponents are searching for second title in three years

Esperance and Wydad Casablanca will face off on Friday night in the second leg of the Caf Champions League final at the Stade Olympique de Rades.

The sides shared the spoils in last week’s 1-1 draw at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, after a feisty game which saw eight yellow cards dished out, one red card brandished and VAR controversy which generated lots of column inches.  

Fousseny Coulibaly opened the scoring for the Tunisians just before half-time, before the goal was cancelled out by a Cheick Comara header in the 80th minute.

Esperance have remained unbeaten throughout the competition and are looking to win the tournament in consecutive seasons.

Moine Chaabani’s team have played 11 games in this year’s competition, winning seven and drawing four, as they seek to maintain their unblemished record and become the first club to repeat the feat of going unbeaten throughout the competition.

In 1994, the Tunisians didn’t lose a game on the road to an African crown, and while four other clubs - Oryx Douala (1965), Ismaily (1969), JET (now JS Kabylie) in 1981 and Al Ahly (2005) – have accomplished this feat once, none have ever repeated the achievement.

The Beast of Africa’s strength in Rades is evidenced by the fact they’ve won five games on the spin on home turf, scoring 10 times and conceding just once, against CS Constantine, in the quarter-finals.

However, Chabaani was disappointed after his side couldn’t press home their advantage in Morocco after Wydad captain Brahim Nakach was sent off in the 49th minute.  

“We could have achieved a better result today. We were successful in the first half, but we failed in the second as we couldn't defend our 1-0 advantage,” Chaabani began.

“The winner is not yet decided. We are facing off a great team, having enough experience and a great coach. There is still another game for which we have to prepare well.”

Esperance are aspiring to be the fourth club to retain the continental competition in its entire history, a success only attained by Enyimba, Al Ahly and Tout Puissant Mazembe.

In an interview with Caf, Saad Bguir, the Tunisians’ hero with a brace when they roared back from a 3-1 loss against Al Ahly in Alexandria to win 3-0 in Rades, is relishing the prospect of winning the competition yet again.

“It will be an incredible feeling to win the Caf Champions League two years in a row,” Bguir affirmed.

“It would be an honour for me as a player and a great joy especially this year, which marks the club’s centenary of existence. In addition, it would be the ultimate gift to our fans who always had our backs and who, I’m certain, will fill the stadium Friday and make the night memorable.”

For Wydad, last week’s 1-1 draw was a relief in the end, given they were a goal down at half-time, reduced to ten men after Nakach saw red five minutes after the restart, and battled through questionable calls by the referee – Gehad Grisha, who has since been suspended – before finding an equaliser.

The 2017 champions are searching for their second title in three years, but will have to find ways to breach an Esperance defence which let in only one goal at the Stade Olympique de Rades.

Faouzi Benzarti’s charges, however, have had an atrocious time on their travels throughout the competition, winning on one occasion 1-0 against Lobi Stars, before failing to win in five other away trips.

Of the five games, three have been defeats while the other games have been goalless draws. The Moroccans have failed to score in their last three games on the road, and against a side with a watertight defence, as well as an away goal, Benzarti’s crew know they must score in Tunisia.

In the history of the Africa’s premier club competition, Wydad are the seventh side to play out to a stalemate at home in the first-leg of the final, so this isn’t a new experience for a finalist going away from home.

On the seven occasions, the away side managed to get a result in the reverse fixture thrice, while it’s gone the home side’s way four times.

Ironically, the last away side to secure the continental crown after drawing the first-leg at home was Wydad in 2017, when they drew 1-1 in Morocco against Al Ahly, before picking up a colossal 1-0 success in Egypt.

Another good omen for the Casablanca-based club is the fact Esperance, in 2012, failed to take advantage of a 1-1 draw against Al Ahly in Egypt, before going on to lose 2-1 in front of their fans.

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Benzarti lauded Wydad’s spirit after last week’s draw, which helped them retain their good home record and also give them a realistic chance in the final.

"We had to make a huge effort to come back and score in the game. I would like to thank my players for the level they have shown despite having a player sent off,” Benzarti said.

The experienced manager will need another superhuman effort by his side if they’re to claim a second Caf CL title in three seasons.