Thursday, October 4, 2007

African Champions League Semifinals

It's here. The biggest continental competition in Africa celebrates its semifinals round, one more game to go before the grand final.

Saturday's African Champions League semifinal between Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia and Sudan's Al Hilal will produce a landmark result - whatever the outcome.

If Etoile can overcome their 2-1 deficit from the first leg in Omdurman, they will be in their fifth consecutive continental final. They won last year's Confederation Cup and they were beaten finalists in the Champions League in 2004 and 2005. In 2003 they took the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup.

If Hilal win, they would cap a remarkable year for Sudanese football.

The national side has reached the Nations Cup finals for the first time in three decades, and Hilal's club rivals Al Merreikh have all but secured a place in the final of the Confederation Cup.

Etoile feel good going in. They scored an away goal in Sudan. A 1-0 victory at home sends them to the Final.

"The first leg puts all the pressure on the Sudanese," striker Gilson Silva told BBC Fast Track on Thursday.

"They will be compelled to score at least once, as we did ourselves."

"They know that staying in defense will be catastrophic for them."

Etoile had a disappointing build-up to the game, with a 1-1 draw by US Monastir in the Tunisian league last week, but they are boosted by the return of defenders Mehdi Merieh and Saber Fradj.

The pair missed the first leg because of injury.

Hilal have amassed an impressive array of wins over the course of this Champions League campaign.

They have thrown off ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast, Esperance of Tunisia and Zamalek of Egypt, among others. Not too shabby.

Also, they will welcome back their key midfielder Rtshard Justin Lado for the game. Sounds like an enticing contest.

Over in the other semi-final, defending champions Al Ahly need a goal to get through on Sunday.

After squeezing out a 0-0 result in Tripoli a fortnight ago against surprise semifinalists Al Ittihad of Libya, the champions will look for the death blow away.

The 'Red Devils' will be highly dissappointed should they underrate the Libyans, who have been in superb form in their maiden campaign at this stage of the competition.

The aggregated winners advance to a two-legged Champions League final.

The first leg will be played in either Sudan or Tunisia on the weekend of October 26-28th with the return match in Egypt or Libya on the weekend of November 9-11.

I hope I can watch them here in the States.