JOHANNESBURG: Tunisia’s Esperance beat 10-man Ahly 1-0 on Sunday to edge past its Egyptian rival on away goals and reach its first African Champions League final in 10 years.
Esperance faces defending champion TP Mazembe of Congo in the two-legged final. Mazembe drew 0-0 at Algeria’s JS Kabylie on Saturday to progress to a second successive final 3-1 on aggregate.
A controversial first-minute goal for Esperance from Nigeria international striker Michael Eneramo leveled the semifinal score at 2-2 on aggregate against Ahly and Esperance’s goal in the 2-1 first leg loss in Cairo saw it through.
Eneramo appeared to force the ball in with his hand at the far post, but Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey allowed it to stand. Ahly’s frustration led to Mohamed Barakat’s red card for hitting an Esperance player halfway through the first half.
Esperance qualified for its first Champions League final since losing two successive title matches in 1999 and 2000. Its only African club triumph came in 1994.
Sunday’s match in Rades, near Tunis was played under close scrutiny after violence from Esperance fans in the first leg of the north African derby at the Cairo International Stadium to weeks’ ago.
At least 14 Tunisians were arrested after away fans attacked policemen, ripped out stadium seats and set off fireworks in acts condemned by Esperance and Tunisia’s football federation. Esperance tried to smooth over the troubles by offering the Ahly fans free tickets for the return leg.
Africa’s football body, CAF, says its disciplinary committee will investigate the incidents at the first leg match where Egyptian TV carried live footage of Tunisian fans beating up and kicking policemen. The violence began soon after Esperance captain Oussama Darragi’s 73rd minute goal to make it 2-1 — ultimately the deciding goal over the two legs.
TP Mazembe reached the final a day earlier when it held JS Kabylie to a goalless draw in Tizi Ouzou.
Mazembe held onto its 3-1 aggregate lead from the first leg in Lubumbashi, and Kabylie also finished with 10 men after Billel Naili was sent off after 60 minutes for dissent.
Kabylie pressured their visitors for the first hour before Naili’s dismissal, but Mazembe held out to the growing frustration of the 20,000-strong Kabylie home crowd.
Midfielder Saad Tedjar had two chances in the last 15 minutes to drag Kabylie back into the contest but he volleyed straight at the Mazembe ‘keeper and then forced a late shot wide.
Mazembe has experienced a rocky road to the final. Coach Diego Garzitto resigned halfway through the campaign and the Congolese team lost two of its leading players, captain Tresor Mputu and Guy Lusadisu, to long-term bans — also midway through the competition. It will aim to add to its previous African club titles in 1967, 1968 and last year.
The reigning African champion will host the first leg of the final against Esperance on Oct. 31 with the return leg on Nov. 13.