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Esperance hold Ahly in CAF Champions League final

Al-Ahly player Mohamed Nagieb (top) vies for the ball with Khaled Ayari of Esperance (© 2009 AFP)

Esperance of Tunisia on Sunday took a massive step towards retaining their CAF Champions League title by forcing a 1-1 draw at Al Ahly of Egypt in the first leg of the final.

It would even have been a bigger advantage for the Tunisian champions going into the return match in Tunis in a fortnight if six-time winners Ahly had not fought back to draw level two minutes from time.

The second leg on November 17 is delicately balanced as Esperance will be without stars Harrison Afful and Sameh Derbali, who both received a booking in this encounter and so will be suspended as they have accumulated two each in the competition.

Against the run of play, Esperance went in front on 49 minutes, when Walid Hicheri got to a corner and headed past a stranded goalkeeper Sherif Ekrami.

Ahly, cheered on by the home crowd at the Military Stadium in Alexandria, about 219 kilometres from the capital Cairo, poured forward from the blast of the first whistle.

They enjoyed more possession but hardly threatened their opponents’ goal, which was well defended until the 14th minute, when Al-Saied’s left-foot shot from distance was blocked by the outstanding Esperance goalkeeper Ben Cherifia.

The best chance of the half fell to Mohamed Abou Trika on 33 minutes, but the legendary Egypt international, whose club suspension was lifted in time for this game, blasted wide with the goal at his mercy.

Mohamed ‘Geddo’ Nagy was lively in the Ahly attack and asked a few questions of a well-organised Esperance defence, before the visitors took the lead courtesy of Hicheri’s header four minutes after the resumption.

To the credit of the Egyptian champions they continued to fight for an equaliser, but either Cherifia or the resolute defending by the Tunisians kept the Egyptians at bay.

Esperance ought to have doubled their lead on 66 minutes but big Cameroon striker Yannick Ndjeng failed to direct his header at goal off a corner.

Ahly were rewarded for their persistence two minutes from time when Ahmed Fathy passed and substitute Hamdy El Sayed broke clear of the Esperance defence before firing past Cherifia to give the Egyptians a glimmer of hope.

Signature : Samm Audu LAGOS (AFP)

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