Caf Champions League: Esperance 0-1 Al Ahly: Red Devils grab first-leg advantage
The Cairo giants’ avenged their 4-3 aggregate defeat to the Blood and Gold in the 2018 Champions League final
Pitso Mosimane led Al Ahly to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Esperance de Tunis in the 2020/21 Caf Champions League semi-final first-leg match on Saturday evening.
Mohamed Sherif’s second-half goal earned the Egyptian champions the win in an encounter that took place at Stade Olympique de Rades in the Tunisian city of Rades.
Mosimane was hoping to mastermind his first win over Esperance having lost once and drawn once against the Tunisian champions during his time with Mamelodi Sundowns.
The South African coach rewarded Salah Mohsen with a starting berth after the attacker came off the bench to score in Al Ahly’s 2-0 win over Moroccan outfit RS Berkane in the 2021 Caf Super Cup match on May 28.
Al Ahly were facing an Esperance side that had lost four of their last five competitive matches including their most recent game which was a 1-0 defeat to Etoile du Sahel in the Tunisian Cup game on 26.
The first real chance of the game was created by Ali Maaloul, who had been handed his maiden start for the Red Devils since February this year by Mosimane.
The Tunisia international played a quick free-kick to the unmarked Sherif, whose angled effort was blocked by well-positioned goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia.
Sherif thought he had handed Al Ahly the lead when he fired home after Ben Cherifia had pushed the ball into his path, but the goal was disallowed for offside.
However, the Blood and Gold finished the first-half the stronger of the two teams and Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane cut inside before unleashing a shot which was brilliantly saved by keeper Mohamed El Shenawy.
Al Ahly, who are the current holders of the Caf Champions League, were then able to contain Esperance until South African match referee Victor Gomes blew the half-time whistle and the score was 0-0 at the interval.
The two teams continued to create chances after the restart as Khalid Abdul-Basit forced El Shenawy into an easy save and Taher Mohamed Taher hit the side-netting at the other end with the Esperance defence exposed.
Mosimane was forced to make a change when Mohsen went down injured and he was replaced by Mohamed Magdi Kafsha, who helped the Red Devils take full control of the match.
The visitors deservedly took the lead when Sherif scored from a rebound to make it 1-0 to Al Ahly in the 67th minute after his initial shot had hit the upright following a defence-splitting pass from Aliou Dieng.
Esperance surged forward as they searched for the equalising goal and Mosimane decided to refresh his defence as he pulled out Maaloul and he introduced Rami Rabia, who is a central defender by trade.
The Red Devils’ defence looked impenetrable in the closing proceedings and a long-range shot from Ben Romdhane was easily saved by El Shenawy and ultimately, the match ended in a 1-0 win in favour of Al Ahly.
The two teams will now meet in the second-leg encounter which is scheduled to be played at Al Ahly’s home ground, Al Salam Stadium next week Saturday.
The winner on aggregate between Al Ahly and Esperance will take on either South African giants Kaizer Chiefs or Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca in the final next month.