CAF Champions League: Al Ahly and Esperance clash in a defensive duel decider


As the CAF Champions League final approaches, all eyes are on the defensive fortresses of Al Ahly and Esperance.

When the teams clash at the Cairo International Stadium this Saturday, it will be a battle defined by the brilliance of two unlikely goalkeeping stars, Mostafa Shobeir of Al Ahly and Esperance’s Amanallah Memmiche.

The first leg in Tunisia ended in a goalless draw, a tactical stalemate that showcased the defensive prowess of both sides. With everything to play for in the second leg, the spotlight is firmly on the goalkeepers, whose performances have been nothing short of heroic.

For 24-year-old Shobeir, this match is a chance to continue his remarkable ascent. The son of Ahly legend Ahmed Shobeir, Mostafa has seized his opportunity with both hands since stepping in for the injured Mohamed El Shenawy.

In his eight appearances as first choice under Swiss coach Marcel Koller, Shobeir has not conceded a single goal. His command of the box and composure under pressure were on full display in Rades, where he kept Esperance at bay.

Shobeir’s job has been made easier by a resilient defense featuring Mohamed Hany, stand-in skipper Ramy Rabia, Mohamed Abdelmonem, and substitute Karim Fouad, who replaced the injured Ali Maaloul early in the first leg. Their cohesion and tactical discipline will be crucial in the high-stakes environment of the final.

On the opposite end, Esperance’s Memmiche has been equally sensational. The 20-year-old, who turned professional just last month, stepped in for the injured Moez Ben Cherifia and has been nothing short of a revelation.

Memmiche has kept 11 clean sheets in 12 Champions League matches this season, with only a Yassine Meriah own goal and a penalty conceded marring his record. His handling and reflexes were impeccable against Ahly, particularly when Hussein El Shahat posed a threat.

Memmiche’s reliability has been bolstered by a steadfast backline consisting of Mohamed Ben Ali, Algerian Mohamed Tougai, and Amine Ben Hamida. Their ability to absorb pressure and thwart Ahly’s attacks will be put to the test in front of a roaring 75,000-strong crowd in Cairo.

Despite Ahly being the slight favorites, given their record 11 Champions League titles and experience in high-pressure situations, coach Marcel Koller remains cautious. “Ahly and Esperance have equal chances of success,” he said.

“Experience is important, but what happens on the pitch will decide the winner. Concentration is key, as one mistake could be decisive.”

Esperance’s manager Miguel Cardoso, who has rebuilt his career in Tunisia after a challenging stint at AEK Athens, shares a similar sentiment. “We couldn’t capitalize on our chances in the first leg,” he acknowledged. “But this final is far from over. We aim to turn the tables in Cairo.”

History may favor Ahly—only two teams held to a 0-0 draw at home in the first leg have gone on to win the title—but Memmiche and Shobeir’s form could tilt the balance. If these young keepers maintain their spectacular performances, we might witness a surprise triumph for Esperance.

As anticipation builds for the decisive encounter, the duel between Shobeir and Memmiche promises to be a gripping spectacle. With defensive mastery on both sides, this final is set to be a thrilling, edge-of-the-seat affair, where every save could be the difference between glory and heartbreak.

Photo: CAF Online

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