CAIRO: The only link between Egyptian Mohamed Aboutraika and Tunisian Anis Boujelbene is that they are midfielders seeking African Champions League glory.
Aboutraika oozes elegance, with the ball often apparently glued to his boot, and has been a pivotal figure in the qualification of defending champions Al-Ahly for the final.
Boujelbene is the football equivalent of a street fighter, harassing rivals into mistakes, tackling fearlessly, and displaying a pride in Club Sportif Sfaxien that can only inspire team-mates.
On Sunday evening at the 80,000-seat International Stadium in Cairo, the artist and the enforcer come face to face in the first leg of a final between clubs of contrasting pedigree.
Ahly are chasing a record-equaling fifth title having conquering Africa in 1982, 1987, 2001 and last year. Fierce Cairo rivals Zamalst time, and against the odds having performed heroically in the qualifying phase to eliminate Daring Club Motema Pembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo and FAR Rabat of Morocco. The approach of Aboutraika and Boujelbene says much about the n. An Issam Merdassi header on the stroke of half-time earned Sfaxien a 1-0 win at home in the opening round last July, which ended a 78-match unbeaten run by Ahly in Africa spanning more than two years.
The Red Devils of Cairo exacted revenge over the Zebras of Sfax in Cairo, winning 2-1 after a late Tarek Ziadi goal for the visitors set up a tense climax.
Aboutraika was never more impressive for Al-Ahly than in the first leg of the semi-final clash with ASEC of Ivory Coast, scoring the first goal in a 2-0 victory. He controlled midfield from the kickoff, and drew repeated applause from a near-capacity crowd, and run from deep in his half took him past four Ivorians and triggered a deafening response from the animated crowd.
Ahly defender Emad Al-Nahas, a long-term absentee from the squad due to injury, says the Red Devils would not have survived a group that include The Egyptian club reportedly turned down a nine-million-dollar offer from an unnamed English Premiership club for the midfield magician, saying he was needed for a heavy international and domestic programme.
Manuel Jose, the Portuguese coach who has guided Ahly to their last two Champions League titles, summed up Aboutraika in three plays for Sfaxien. He looks tough, talks tough, and plays tough.
When defender Wissem Al-Abdi became temperamental and a loose cannon in South Africa last month against Orlando Pirates, it was Boujelbene who confronted the senior player, gave him a tongue lashing, and restored order.
Boujelbene and Al-Abdi have delayed lucrative transfers to clubs in Egypt and Qatar respectively when they realized Sfaxien were genuine contenders for the trophy that symbolizes African club supremacy.
Al-Ahly were convincing winners over another Tunisian club, Etoile du Sahel, last year, comfortably forcing a 0-0 away draw before winning 3-0 at d at least a three-goal advantage ahead of the return match in Tunis on Nov. 12 unlikely to be achieved. Apart from the prize money, a trip to the FIFA World Club Cup in Japan during December to play Auckland City of New Zealand in the quarter-finals awaits the African champs.