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

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.

Juventus crowned Italian Super Cup champions

‘I’m very happy to have won my first title with Juventus,’ Cristiano Ronaldo said. (Photo/General Sports Authority)
Updated 17 January 2019

Juventus crowned Italian Super Cup champions

  • Ronaldo’s glancing header sinks AC Milan 1-0 at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Stadium

JEDDAH: A historic Wednesday evening at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium saw Italian champions Juventus beat AC Milan in the final of the 31st annual Supercoppa Italiana.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winning goal as Juventus lifted the Supercoppa Italiana for the first time since 2015 with a 1-0 victory in front of a sold-out 61,235-capacity crowd.

As only one should expect when two of the most successful Italian clubs go head to head, a tactical and elegant, albeit very physical, display of football was at hand. 

Cheerful roars from the Jeddah crowd resonated throughout the night, in the kind of buzzing atmosphere that only a cup final brings.

Juventus, the Serie A champions, began brightly and were the first side to settle into the game, threatening with frequent sweeping moves.

Juventus and Portuguese international Joao Cancelo could have opened the scoring in the 16th minute after being played through on goal, but the defender’s zooming effort lacked the necessary precision and whisked past the far post with the Milan keeper rooted in his spot.

A maddening crescendo of noise erupted when Juventus and French international Blaise Matuidi thought he had opened the scoring in the 33rd minute after being played through by Costa before being flagged offside. 

Juventus did not have too much longer for another opportunity though, with Ronaldo’s acrobatic half volley from just outside the six-yard box bouncing and nestling agonizingly just over the bar and sparing Donnarumma’s blushes in the process.

Christiano Ronaldo has scored eight goals in his last seven finals. (Reuters)

Milan, who qualified for the final as runners-up to Juventus in last season’s Coppa Italia, had struggled throughout the first half to settle into the game. They gradually grew into their own though, and nearly broke the deadlock at the stroke of halftime with a stinging drive from Turkish international Hakan Calhanoglu.

After a slew of opportunities had Juventus failing to build a halftime lead, Milan nearly made them pay for their squandered chances by starting the second half like bats out of hell. 

Milan’s confident pressing start to the half was almost rewarded in the 47th minute when a Ronaldo tackle inadvertently set up Cutrone with a clear sight on goal.  The striker turned and blasted an effort that rattled off the crossbar — the closest either team had come thus far.

And just when the tide seemed to have turned for Milan in the second half, their confidence building with every minute, a perfectly floating cross from Pjanic found Ronaldo with yards of space, and he made no mistake directing a swift header into the back of the net in the 61st minute and sending Juve supporters into a frenzy.

• AS IT HAPPENED: Cristiano Ronaldo's goal gives Juventus Supercoppa Italiana victory over AC Milan in Jeddah >>

• Arab News Matchday gallery >>

Things went from bad to worse for Milan in the 73rd minute. Franck Kessie came rushing in with a recklessly timed tackle, crunching his studs into the shins of Emre Can, which resulted in him seeing a straight red and leaving Milan with 10 men and a subsequent insurmountable uphill battle.

The final whistle came soon after, and with it brought Juventus a record eighth Supercoppa. It goes without saying that there is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a cup final, but this was a historic and monumental occasion for Jeddah. 

The first major European cup final match being held in Saudi Arabia is now in the books, and with it brought an added sense of passion and excitement. 

Thousands of men, women and children showed up enthusiastically, were highly supportive of both teams, and were thoroughly entertained. It was a successful and memorable night that will surely pave the way for many more.

Addressing a prematch press conference on Tuesday night, Juventus Captain Giorgio Chiellini had defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.

“We (footballers) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.”

Juventus had been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they had lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European Cup finals. 

Chiellini, however, firmly believed that his team would change the trend and the team did make their captain proud. 

Juventus now holds the outright record of most Italian Super Cups with eight titles. (Arab News photo by Ali Khamg)