Etoile Sahel clinch African title

BITTER-SWEET:Etoile Sahel's victory means the trophy will return to Tunisia after a 131-year absence, but the players were bombarded with chairs by Egyptian fans


Sun, Nov 11, 2007 - Page 23

Etoile Sahel of Tunisia stunned title holders Al-Ahly of Egypt 3-1 on Friday to win a first African Champions League title.

No one outside Tunisia gave a team coached by Frenchman Bertrand Marchand a chance at Cairo Stadium after they were held 0-0 two weeks ago in the first leg of the African Football Confederation (CAF) club showpiece.

Victory was particularly sweet for the men from the Mediterranean resort of Sousse as they were crushed 3-0 by Ahly at the same ground in the 2005 African Champions League decider.

Lifting the trophy completed a clean sweep of CAF titles for Etoile, who had won the Cup Winners Cup and CAF Cup twice and the Super Cup and Confederation Cup once.

Ahly were seeking two records -- a third consecutive title and sixth overall -- but the early second-half dismissal of defender Emad al-Nahas turned a match the Egyptians looked set to win.

"We expected to win, but not this way. Three-one is a heavy defeat for Al-Ahli," Etoile's Hatem Bejaoui said.

Egyptian security forces were deployed around the stadium in expectation of trouble between the rival fans.

Tensions inside the stadium already boiled over as the trophy was handed to the Tunisians, with police intervening after Egyptian fans started grabbing Tunisian players.

Police took players from both sides and Al-Ahly coach Manuel Jose inside after fans began spitting on the losers.

Etoile took the lead in first-half stoppage time through Afouene Gharbi only for Nahas to equalize five minutes into the second half of a thrilling climax watched by a capacity 50,000 crowd.

Needing to score again under the away-goal rule, Ahly laid siege to the Etoile goal until veteran Nahas was shown a red card by outstanding Moroccan referee Abderrahim al-Arjoun.

Ahly never regained their momentum with 10 men and survived a few scares before Amine Chermiti put Etoile ahead for the second time two minutes into stoppage time and Mohamed Ali Nafkha added a late third goal.

Both teams entered the match minus key players as first-leg cautions led to the suspension of Ahly midfield maestro Mohamed Barakat and Etoile captain and defender Seif Ghezal.

Ahly controlled the early exchanges only to be foiled by the woodwork midway through the first when Angolan Flavio Amado put recalled Emad Moteab clear and his shot was parried on to the crossbar by Aymen Methlouthi and cleared.

Etoile, twice African Champions League runners-up, became more assertive as the opening half drew to a close and they silenced a largely Egyptian crowd by taking the lead one minute into stoppage time.

Muri Ogunbiyi passed to stand-in captain Saber Ben Frej on the right wing and his cross found unmarked Gharbi, whose shot was deflected past veteran goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary into the corner of the net.

Coach Manuel Jose swapped Ahly midfielders at half-time, replacing Islam al-Shatar with Hassan Mostafa, and five minutes into the second half they were level when Nahas headed home a Felisberto "Gilberto" Amaral free kick.

The hero turned villain 11 minutes later when he fouled Chermiti and Arjoun, giving one of the finest performances by a referee in an African club soccer match, did not hesitate to expel Nahas.

Gharbi hit the crossbar from a free kick, Gilson "Ja" Silva fired wide when well-placed and Hadary saved superbly from Bassem Ben Nasr before Etoile struck twice to bring the trophy back to Tunisia after a 131-year absence.