CAF Champions League final pits two regular contenders in battle


The 2018 CAF Champions League final between Al Ahly and Esperance will be a repeat of the decider played six years ago, and pits together two of the most frequent visitors to the continent's elite cup final.

Egyptian giants Ahly will be appearing in a record 12th decider, from which they have eight wins already, and are the only team with more Champions League final appearances than Esperance's seven.

The Tunisians have tasted victory only twice before, in 1994 and 2011, and will be gunning for revenge after they lost to Ahly in the 2012 final following a home defeat in the second leg.

As is the case this year, Ahly were at home first and the teams played to a 1-1 draw, making Esperance the favourites going into the second leg.

But Ahly pulled off a 2-1 away win as they showed all their experience and quality to claim the first of what would be back-to-back wins.

The Egyptian side will head into this year's final as overwhelming favourites; their organization under French coach Patrice Carteron up against the slightly 'wild' but exciting skill of Esperance.

It is in many ways a clash of contrasting styles, but one that will ensure a North African champion in the continent's elite competition for a 30th year.

In fact, since 2004, the only clubs from outside North Africa to lift the trophy are DR Congo outfit TP Mazembe (three times) and South African club Mamelodi Sundowns.

One of those victories of Mazembe was with Carteron at the helm, and he is now hoping to make it a second title for his CV with Ahly.

It makes his decision to leave the well-paid job at Didier Drogba's Phoenix Rising in the United States earlier this year all the more worthwhile, and would arguably place him among the leading coaches to work on the continent in the last few decades.

Esperance's seven final appearances have all come since 1994, when they defeated Ahly's bitter Cairo rivals Zamalek 3-1 on aggregate in the decider. They were back at the main table in 1999, but this time lost out to Raja Casablanca on penalties after both legs finished in a 0-0 draw.

There would be more final heartache the following year when they clashed with Ghanaian side Hearts of Oak, but were well beaten 5-2 on aggregate after losing both legs.

It would be a long wait for their next appearance, though they made three finals in a row between 2010 and 2012 with mixed success.

They were again well beaten in the first of those, losing 6-1 on aggregate to Mazembe, before defeating Wydad Casablanca from Morocco 1-0 on aggregate the following year.

Then came their 2012 clash with Ahly, which resulted in the 3-2 aggregate loss.

Ahly are this year seeking to put behind them the disappointment of losing out on last year's title when they were beaten 2-1 on aggregate by Wydad Casablanca.

Their eight previous wins have come in a 31-year period between 1982 and 2013, with this current stretch of five years the longest they have gone without lifting the title since the 1990s.

They are biggest power on the African continent and it is hard to see past them lifting the trophy again this year.