Egypt’s Al Ahly are clear favourites to extend their record streak of African club competition titles when they take a 3-1 lead over Esperance into their Champions League final second leg in Tunisia on Friday after a drama-filled build-up.
Al Ahly have won an unprecedented eight Champions League titles and long been regarded as the continent’s best team, while Esperance have triumphed twice and been runners-up four times, including in 2012 when Al Ahly won 3-2 on aggregate.
However, the Cairo side’s win in the opener in Alexandria last Friday was clouded by controversial refereeing and the gamesmanship that has seen Al Ahly’s leading striker Walid Azaro banned and created a heated atmosphere ahead of the return.
The Moroccan-born striker was handed a two-match ban by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on Tuesday for unsporting behaviour after being caught on camera tearing at his shirt and then trying to persuade the referee he was grabbed.
But Al Ahly benefited from poor officiating by Algerian referee Mehdi Abid Charef, who has since been suspended by CAF while an investigation into his performance has been launched.
He gave Al Ahly two penalties, one of which looked doubtful but was awarded after the use of VAR.
A Tunisian Football Federation protest about the referee’s performance was handed in at the weekend as the two clubs traded allegations of intimidation and assault in the wake of the game.
Al Ahly arrived in Tunisia after French coach Patrice Carteron asked for “special protection” ahead of the trip.
The rhetoric has ratcheted up the temperature before the second leg at the Rades Stadium on the outskirts of Tunis, where the Egyptians can expect a hostile reception.