Friday, November 14, 2008

African Champions League Winds Down

The eyes of the football world turn to Cameroon this weekend and Sunday's second leg of the African Champions League final between Egypt's Al Ahly and Cameroon's Coton Sport.

Ahly, five-time African champions, won the first leg in 2-0 in Egypt.

Now, Coton Sport will look to contain the Egyptian juggernaut at home.

Coton captain Ahmadou Ngomna wishes his side hadn't come into the first leg scared of their opposition.

The Cameroon side’s defense let in two early goals (3rd and 15th minute), but managed to hold off the Red Devils for the remainder of the match and still have a shot of claiming their first continental title.

"I think we gave Ahly too much respect, and it affected our start," Ngomna told

"After the first 30 minutes we started regaining our confidence and Ahly suffered enormously when we did."

Ngomna will not play in the second leg in Garoua on November 16 after picking up a yellow card and an automatic one-game suspension.

"I'm really gutted that I won't be available for the home game as it was a very harsh yellow card to receive.

"However, I'm sure we can still overcome the two-goal deficit in Garoua where the team will be playing at home and without too much pressure."

Meanwhile, Coton Sport coach Alain Ouombleon expects his side to perform a whole lot better in the home leg.

"The result is not acceptable, but we will avenge our loss in the return leg," he said.

"Ahly are dangerous at set-pieces, but we didn't show caution and conceded two goals as a result."

Meanwhile, Ahly know they're stepping into a cauldron come Sunday.

Coton have not been beaten in African competition at home since 2002 and have not conceded a goal at their own stadium during this campaign.

"We all know that a tough mission is awaiting us," assistant manager Hossam Al-Badri told Ahly's official site.

"We will have a difficult 72-hour journey, the atmosphere will be tense and our stay will hardly be comfortable. Nonetheless, we are determined to win the title.

"There is a state of optimism among the players and the technical staff, we know our fans are eager for the trophy, and so we want to make them happy.

"Coton are a very ambitious side playing at home, but our players have experience and they are capable of facing the difficult circumstances.

"They just have to be focused on their mission without paying attention to the surrounding atmosphere."

Ahly will claim a record sixth African championship should they hold out for the aggregate win, while Coton Sport want their first.

Coton's story has certainly garnered it's fair share of attention.

Today's BBC has a wonderful interview with Pierre Kaptene, former club president.

Kaptene saw the club rise from a social club to African finalists, so his view of the situation is enlightening.

"It's a dream [getting to the final] but we don't want people to think that if we lose we are not happy - for us being in the final is a fiesta," Kaptene said.

"If we can win it will be the cherry on the cake. I didn't think we could get this far so quickly because when you see the best teams in African football they have been around for 40 or 50 years or more.

"We are very young, so it's like a fairy story that we are in the final. But we won't stop here - better things are to come."

Take a look at the story here. It's a sweet read.

Also, journalist Richard Ferris of football365 from South Africa wonders why people have written off Coton's chances in the 2nd leg.

Although Coton have as much continental pedigree as Mohamed Aboutraika's big toe, the champions of Cameroon have proved that they can compete with Africa's best. That is not to mention that Manuel Jose's team are far from infallible.

A quick perusal of Coton's scalps through the current Champions League campaign is telling. Alain Ouombleon Guedou's side ended two-time African champions JS Kabylie's hopes of progressing into the group phase of the competition before beating Nigerian giants Enyimba and last year's semi-finalists Al Hilal.

The Garoua-based outfit then brought to an end Dyanamos' fantastic run in the tournament - and lest we forget the Zimbabweans beat defending champions Etoile Sahel. ...

African football journalists also appear to have very short memories. Surprisingly few hacks remember Ahly's absymal performance in last season's Champions League final which saw the Cairo giants surrender meekly to Etoile.

A good read and well worth the time ...

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