Coton 2 Ahly 0. Ahly win on penalties.
That should be the headlines after tomorrow s second leg, final match in the African Champions League. Are we sure? The facts say otherwise.
Fact: Ahly of Egypt go into the game after beating Cameroon s Coton Sport 2-0 in Cairo.
Fact: The Cameroonians need at least three unanswered goals to clinch the title outright.
Fact: Ahly are going for a record sixth African crown, a fourth time this decade alone.
Fact: This is Coton s first appearance in a final, and only after seven failed attempts to get beyond the qualifying phase.
Fact: Of the 11 finals played since 1997, four ended with victory for the club which played the return leg away.
Fact: Ahly have not lost the second leg anytime they have played first at home, i.e. 1982, 2001, 2006.
Fact: Ahly have lost only once away from home this season, a 2-1 loss to South African side Platinum Stars in the qualifiers for the group stage.
Fact: Ahly have a 102-year history laden with African and domestic honors.
Fact: Coton Sport are just 22 years old and their best achievement was reaching the final of the now defunct CAF Cup in 2003.
Fact: Ahly supplied five Egyptians and two Angolans for the 2008 African Nations Cup while no Coton Sport footballer made it to Ghana.
Meanwhile, the Coton Sport fact file is thinner.
Fact: Coton have not conceded a single goal at home throughout this year s Champions League campaign.
Fact: Coton have scored 18 times in the process.
Fact: Coton gained maximum points from their home games.
Fact: Coton have not lost at home in six years.
Coton Sport will not win the championship but they ll make it close. There are intangibles in sports that cannot be measured in facts. The fact is Ahly s 2-0 win in Cairo did not deliver the expected knock-out blow to the Cameroonian underdogs. Though Ahly fashioned enough chances to win comfortably and give them the cushion needed in the second leg, they also gave the impression that the final is not yet over. Coton are, after all, still standing.
Ahly took the advantage of a bout of early Coton nerves to score two quickies but as the game progressed Coton collected themselves and came more into the game.
Goals scored in quick early succession and then never again for the rest of the match usually mean the losing side was in disarray for a few fatal minutes but managed to recoup and compose themselves the rest of the way.
Now that the nervousness and novelty of playing a giant like Ahly and making their maiden final appearance have worn off, Coton will not go into the second game with the fear in their hearts they showed during that brief period of disarray in Cairo.
Those two Ahly goals, both headers, came from two set pieces, always Ahly s strong suit. Before corner kicks and free kicks, Coton s defenders will undoubtedly position themselves better. Ahly are not unbeatable. Last year they were considered certainties to overtake fellow five-time winners Zamalek after forcing a 0-0 first-leg draw at Etoile Sahel of Tunisia. But Ahly came horribly unstuck at home to lose 3-1 by conceding two stoppage-time goals.
Perhaps the biggest advantage enjoyed by Coton is that no one beyond Cameroon believes they can win the championship. That no one outside the dusty north cotton town of Garoua thought Coton could get this far lifts most of the pressure off of Coton and onto Ahly instead.
Tomorrow, Ahly have to try to survive at the Roumde-Adja Omnisport Stadium, where many have failed. The 35,000-capacity caldron (which will drown out about 80 brave Egyptian souls travelling to the game) has become a waterloo for visiting clubs this term.
Ahly could lose by one goal and still come out on top, but Coton should have the wherewithal to level the game on aggregate. They will not, however, have the poise or the nerves of steel in the spot kicks.
Much rides on tomorrow s final, the winner claiming the $1 million prize ($750,000 for the loser is not bad either), and a ticket to represent Africa at the FIFA World Club Championship in Japan in December, and a place besides European champions Manchester United.
Ahly s remarkable storied history should see them through but the fact is, it will be a squeaker.