Rades boils for Esperance Etoile du Sahel cracker
The Stade 14 January in Rades will be the centre of attraction this weekend when Tunisian giants Esperance Sportive de Tunis and Etoile du Sahel face-off in the Day three Group ‘A’ clash of the 2012 Orange CAF Champions League.
Located nine kilometres southeast of the Tunisian capital, Tunis, the 65,000-capacity stadium was the venue where Esperance lifted the title few months ago, and the outcome of the derby will take the ‘Blood and Gold’ a step closer towards replicating the feat.
The encounter ranks as one of the biggest games in the Tunisian football with both clubs having won an accumulated 33 league titles, with only nine for Etoile du Sahel. Though the rivalry cannot be compared to that of Esperance and Club Africain, meeting in the premier continental club championship is one that will heighten the rivalry between the two clubs.
Esperance have been in fine form with victories in their last two matches and will inch closer to the last four with the maximum points against their fellows. The holders appeared to have found their feet with the return of head coach Nabil Maaloul whilst Cameroon-import Yannick N’Djeng has been unstoppable in front of goal.
The 24-time Tunisian champions and current league leaders are highly favoured with recent form being the yardstick and for the fact that they triumphed by a lone goal when the two sides faced off in the Tunisian League last March thanks to an N’Djeng strike.
Maaloul reckons a tough game describing the playing style of both teams as familiar, but remains optimistic that the likes of Youssef Msakni Harrison Afful amongst others backed by the likely return of Mejdi Traoui and Walid Hicheri, who were unavailable for the last game with ASO Chlef are capable of delivering the expected result.
“The match with Etoile will have a special flavour and will be different from other games. The players are very much aware of the task and are on course,” said Maaloul who has recruited Carthage Eagles duo Houcine Ragued from Turkish side, Karabukspor and Chaker Zoaghi from FC Zurich in Switzerland as well as Ivorian forward Didier Libre as he strengthens his side.
Etoile on the otherhand are equally bracing up for the challenge and appear battle-ready after a 5-2 win over Emirates Club of the United Arab Emirates in a test match earlier in the week at their favourite Mediterranean city of Sousse. With four points from two games, the 2007 winners are gradually discovering their feet after beefing up their squad with big names including Niger striker Moussa Maazou.
The bad news for the Diables Rouge is the absence of midfielder Hamed Namouchi on health grounds, but Mondher Kbaier is upbeat his charges will be up to the task.
The other Group A match will be in Ijebu-Ode where Sunshine Stars of Nigeria will battle it out with ASO Chlef of Algeria. Both teams are searching for their maiden victories to boost their campaign as any result other than the maximum points will make bleak the chances of either side.
Five-time winners, Zamalek also found themselves in the same situation as they must avoid yet another defeat against DR Congo side, TP Mazembe in their Group B clash in Lubumbashi. The plight of the White Knights has further been worsened by the shocking departure of head coach Hassan Shehata, which means his deputy Ismail Youssef will be at the helm for the crucial clash.
At the Military Stadium in Cairo, six-time winners Al-Ahly will come up against surprise packets Berekum Chelsea of Ghana in tough duel. Ahly Assistant Coach, Mohammed Youssef has declared that they are ready for the clash whilst their two players, Mohamed Aboutreika and Emad Moteab, currently with the Egyptian squad at the London 2012 Olympic Games will be available for the game.
“The outcome of our encounter with Berekum Chelsea is key to our quest for a semi final spot. If we manage to win, we will remain at the summit of the standings and move a huge step towards the last four. We will approach the game with a lot of determination to win from the onset. It is critical because we will have two away games in the next round,” Youssef noted.
However, Johannes Van der Pluijm, head coach of Berekum Chelsea is the least perturbed about their encounter with the ‘Red Devils’, unarguably the most successful in the premier continental club championship.
“We hope to pick a valuable result depending on the situation. We are going all out because there is nothing to fear. Every team in this competition is beatable and it is possible to win in Cairo” Pluijm said.
05/08/12 Sunshine Stars (Nigeria) vs. ASO Chlef (Algeria)
05/08/12 Esperance (Tunisia) vs. Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia)
04/08/12 TP Mazembe (DR Congo) vs. Zamalek (Egypt)
04/08/12 Al-Ahly (Egypt) vs. Berekum Chelsea (Ghana)
HOSTS COUNTRIES OF NEXT CAF COMPETITIONSOrange CAN 2012
REGULATIONS / PUBLICATIONSCAF Statutes