Al-Ahly gain early advantage in CAF Champions League final with win over Esperance

Ahly's Ahmed Abd el-Gaber (C) celebrates with his teammates (R) their goal against ES Tunisia during the CAF Champions League final football match between Egypt's Al-Ahly and Tunisia's ES Tunis at the Borg el-Arab stadium. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2018
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Al-Ahly gain early advantage in CAF Champions League final with win over Esperance

ALEXANDRIA: Walid Soliman converted two VAR penalties to give Al-Ahly of Egypt a 3-1 first-leg win over arch-rivals Esperance of Tunisia in a bad-tempered CAF Champions League final.
Amr el-Soulia scored the other goal for the hosts at the Borg el-Arab Stadium in Mediterranean city Alexandria and Youcef Belaili converted a penalty for Esperance.
Ahly have won their last three away matches against Esperance in the premier African club competition and are favored to lift the trophy a record-extending ninth time after the return leg next Friday.
“We will fight for the title in the return match in Tunisia — we will be up against a team worthy of respect,” said France-born Ahly coach Patrice Carteron.
Esperance coach Moine Chaabani was critical of the Algerian referee, VAR, and yellow cards that ruled Chamseddine Dhaouadi and Franck Kom out of the second leg.
“If the intention was to steer the title to a certain team, why do we tire ourselves out, and the fans travel, and dream of the title? We will not give up.”
VAR (video assistant referees) was part of a Champions League final for the first time and referee Mehdi Charef twice used the system to rubber-stamp decisions.
Esperance goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia made contact with Ahly striker Walid Azaro and the match official pointed to the spot before watching replays and confirming the penalty.
Cherifia correctly guessed the direction of the shot, but veteran Soliman struck it too hard and too high for the goalkeeper to have any chance.
The goal on 34 minutes gave the Cairo Red Devils a 1-0 half-time advantage that they doubled after 58 minutes through El-Soulia.
Soliman was the creator this time, crossing the ball low into the heart of the goalmouth where El-Soulia controlled it with his first touch, then poked it past Cherifia.
Rattled two-time champions Esperance clawed their way back into the game after 64 minutes via the only penalty of the three in which the match official did not use VAR.
Goalkeeper Mohamed el Shenawy clearly fouled Youcef Belaili with his shoulder and the Algerian struck the spot-kick under the body of the Ahly shot-stopper to halve the deficit.
But when an Esperance defender retaliated against Azaro in the box, the referee once again pointed to the spot and ran to the touchline monitor before confirming his decision.
Cherifia believed Soliman would aim for the same corner, but the veteran outfoxed him with a calmly-struck penalty to the other side on 77 minutes.
Both sides were foiled by the woodwork — Ghilane Chaalali for Esperance just before half-time and Soliman from a free-kick soon after his second goal.
The VAR penalties added to the drama in a match that was not for the purist with 48 fouls, five yellow cards and several head injuries preventing any rhythm.
Esperance captain Khalil Chemmam had to leave the field temporarily just before half-time with his face covered in blood from a head wound and Soliman also needed treatment.
Ahly winger Ayman Hamoudy was the victim of an off-the-ball challenge in the second half and, although obviously dazed, continued for a while before being substituted.
It was a match that bordered on the brutal at times with both clubs desperate to become champions, pocket $2.5 million and secure a FIFA Club World Cup place.
Esperance began and finished strongly with El-Shenawy needing to be at his sharpest in the dying minutes to avoid conceding a second goal.


India confident they can end Test series duck in Australia

Updated 19 November 2018
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India confident they can end Test series duck in Australia

  • India have never won a series Down Under, but are hopeful they can end that run.
  • Four-match series starts on Dec. 6

SYDNEY: India have warned Australia they are in confident mood ahead of the their Test series Down Under, starting in December.
The Indians have never won a series on Australian soil and hitting that stat for six is the main aim of the tour.
“It’s the one place that we want to leave our mark and do well as a unit,” India’s vice-captain Rohit Sharma said.
“The last time we played test series here — although we lost two games and we drew one game — I thought there were a few close games being played.
“We want to make it count this time around. There’s a real good feeling inside the group.”
India top the current Test rankings, while Australia have slid to No. 5 in a year overshadowed by a ball-tampering scandal in March that ended in test captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner being suspended for 12 months from international and first-class cricket and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft barred for nine months.
India are No. 2 in the one-day international and Twenty20 international rankings, while five-time and defending World Cup champion Australia have slumped to No. 6 in the ODI rankings and No. 3 in T20s.
As far as Sharma and the India contingent are concerned, Australia cricket has never been more susceptible to losing at home. India have won only five Tests in Australia — three in the 1970s and early 80s — one in 2004 and one in 2008.
The four-Test series starts in Adelaide on Dec. 6 — a break with tradition from a regular first test venue at Brisbane’s Gabba ground — and will include matches in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.
Sharma knows that going from a relatively predictable Adelaide wicket to what is expected to be a bouncy, fast pitch in Perth could be the biggest challenge of the series.
“Australia has bowlers who are very tall and extract those conditions, use them to their advantage,” Sharma said of the Perth Test. “Indian batsman generally are not that tall.
“Obviously it’s not that easy for us but, again, all the guys are quite determined to change things around this time.”
A rebuilding Australia squad is coming off back-to-back series losses to Pakistan and South Africa in the limited-overs formats, following a Test series loss to Pakistan in the UAE.
The fallout from the ball-tampering episode in March at Cape Town, when Bancroft’s awkward attempt to change the condition of the match ball by rubbing it with sandpaper, has gone way beyond Australia’s playing XI.
Coach Darren Lehmann quit at the end of that series in South Africa, and has been replaced by Justin Langer. Cricket Australia’s chairman, chief executive and high-performance manager have also quit and been replaced in a period of destabilization for the national game.