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Stubborn defence stands between Al Ahly and more Champions League success

AL Ahly will start as favourites to secure a fourth African Champions League title in five years when they host Esperance of Tunisia in Cairo on Saturday in the second leg of the final but must break down a stubborn defence to do so.

The Egyptian giants are a long-standing dominant force in African club competition and show no signs of letting up as they look to extend their record number of wins in the continent’s top club competition to 12.

They forced a goalless draw in a dour first leg in Tunis last Saturday and with a formidable home record — and a capacity 60,000-strong crowd in Cairo for the return — they hold a distinct advantage.

But it could be a struggle to break down Esperance’s competent defence, which has not conceded a goal in their last nine Champions League ties.

They let in three goals when they lost to Al Hilal of Sudan in the second of their six group phase games at the start of December but have since kept clean sheets in four group games, then the quarter-final tie against ASEC Abidjan of the Ivory Coast and again in their two-legged semi-final victory over much-fancied Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa.

Al Ahly will need all their attacking acumen and have proven proficient at home, netting 13 goals in six games in this year’s competition, while keeping their own goal intact in each game.

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But the absence of flying fullback Ali Maaloul, who tore his Achilles tendon in the first leg, is a blow. He had surgery on Monday.

Wingers Ahmed Abdelkader, Taher Mohamed and Mohamed Dhaoui also miss out although midfield strongman Aly Dieng is back.

“In Cairo, we aim to capitalise on our home advantage to secure the title,” said Ahly’s Swiss coach Marcel Koller.

It is the third time the two north African rivals contest the Champions League final with Ahly winning 3-2 on aggregate in 2012 and Esperance 4-3 over two legs six years later.

By The African Mirror