Al-Ahly told to be ready for heated battle in Tunisia against Esperance de Tunis in Champions League final

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It was a tense and heated affair in Alexandria last week. Another red-ht atmosphere is expected on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 08 November 2018

Al-Ahly told to be ready for heated battle in Tunisia against Esperance de Tunis in Champions League final

  • Al-Ahly take 3-1 lead into clash as coach Carteron tells team to be prepared for "war".
  • Esperance boss Chaabani wants players to overcome "extreme injustice" of first leg.

LONDON: Al-Ahly may be taking a 3-1 lead into the second leg of the CAF Champions League final against Esperance de Tunis on Friday, but their coach Patrice Carteron has told his team to be prepared for “war” in their bid to win a ninth continental crown.
The first leg in Alexandria last weekend was an extremely feisty and bad-tempered affair that will be remembered for two controversial VAR (video assistant referee) penalties for Al-Ahly — Walid Soliman converted both.
Furious Esperance players and coaches accused the Egyptian side’s striker Walid Azaro of diving to win the first spot-kick and of feigning injury and tearing his shirt for the second.
The Tunisians accused the Algerian referee of bias and the Cairo club of pre-match dirty tricks, including delaying their arrival at the stadium and police harassment.
No CAF Champions League final is a quiet affair, but after the first leg today’s clash is expected to be on the red-hot end of heated. And Carteron has warned his side they cannot take anything for granted despite their two-goal advantage.
“We are fortunate to have many players sufficiently experienced to deal with this kind of match,” the Al-Ahly coach said.
“I hope the team receives special protection and that the Tunisian government ensures we have a football match, and not a war in the stands.”

Walid Azaro is supsended for Friday's do-or-die clash. 

Carteron is only too well aware that Al-Ahly will need to be at their most-levelled best to ensure they lift the trophy tonight. They go into the clash without Azaro, right, who has been banned for two matches following the incident last week. CAF did not elaborate on why the ban had been imposed but it is thought it was because the Moroccan was ultimately shown to have ripped his shirt in the first leg.
While Al-Ahly will rue the loss of the man who has scored six goals in the competition so far, second only to TP Mazembe’s Ben Malango, the sense of grievance — they have appealed the ban — could well drive them to put in the necessary backs-against-the-wall performance in Tunis.
That aim of righting some wrongs will definitely be a motivating factor for Esperance. Their coach Moine Chaabani is still smarting from what he sees as the injustices of the first leg. But Chaabani, promoted when Khaled Ben Yahia was fired after a first-leg loss to Primeiro in the semifinals, is confident his side can win the Champions League for the third time.
“We can recover from 3-1 behind — there is still hope. A key issue is keeping my players focused on football with so much else going on,” he said.
Chaabani is angry at the losses of center-back Dhaouadi and Cameroonian midfield enforcer Kom, whose second yellow cards of the competition triggered automatic one-match suspensions.
“Dhaouadi was booked for no reason, so was Kom. It is as if they were targeted (by the referee) from the get go.
“I am livid at what happened in Alexandria, but have to keep it together for the sake of the team. We were subjected to an extreme injustice.”

Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

Updated 21 March 2019

Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

  • Former Saudi Arabia coach wants to guide the Whites to their first World Cup since 1990.
  • "If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here," Dutchman says of his new job.

LONDON: Bert van Marwijk has told the UAE he only has one thing on his mind: Getting the side to the 2022 World Cup. 

The former Saudi Arabia boss was unveiled as the new coach of the Whites before watching his new team beat his former team 2-1 in a friendly in Dubai (see right). While he was in the stand rather than the dugout — interim boss Saleem Abdelrahman took charge — he would have liked what he saw as he set himself the challenge of leading the UAE to their first showpiece since 1990. 

“I’m here for only one thing, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup,” the Dutchman said.  

“It takes a long time and the first thing we have to deal with is the first qualification round. That’s why I’m here.”

Van Marwijk was celebrated after he led the Green Falcons to last year's World Cup before calling it quits. (AFP) 

Van Marwijk guided Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup — the Green Falcons’ first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — during a two-year stint which ended in September 2017.

That was one of the key reasons the UAE fought hard for the 66-year-old and while it is never easy getting through Asian qualifying — 46 teams going for just four direct slots at Qatar 2022 — the Dutchman claimed his experience, combined with his knowledge of the UAE, will stand him in good stead. 

“The Saudis and the UAE are about the same level. With the Saudis we qualified for Russia, so we will do really everything to go to Qatar in 2022,” Van Marwijk said. 

While he is fondly remembered in the Kingdom — only a contractual dispute regarding backroom staff meant he did not stay on as Green Falcons coach for the Russia tournament — it is his time as the Netherlands coach that really stands out on his managerial resume. Van Marwijk coached the Oranje to within minutes of the World Cup trophy, with only an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner preventing him from tasting ultimate glory against Spain in 2010. 

So why did he return to the Gulf for another crack at World Cup qualification in a tough, crowded race? 

“One of the reasons is the feeling. I have to have the right feeling when I sign a contract,” Van Marwijk said. “We analyzed the UAE, we played four times against each other with Saudi, so I can see the potential.

“I have had the experience to go to the World Cup twice. The first time we were second in the world, the second time was with Australia (which he coached last summer) and we were a little bit unlucky — we played very well. 

“So to go to the World Cup for the third time is the goal.”

Van Marwijk is all too aware his task will be difficult. The “Golden Generation” of Emirati footballers, spearheaded by Omar Abdulrahman, tried and failed to make it to football’s biggest tournament, and a lot of the next three years’ work will likely depend on a new generation.

“I heard there were some young talents, so I’m anxious to know how good they are,” the Dutchman said. “I know the team has a few very good players — the UAE has a few weapons. 

“That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here.”