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Etoile football coach confident of dethroning ´lucky´ Ahly

26 October 2007 08:36

SOUSSE, Tunisia (AFP) - Tunisian team Etoile Sahel coach Bertrand Marchand has labelled African Champions League final rivals Al-Ahly of Egypt a lucky team ahead of the first leg on Saturday.

"Ahly depend too much on luck and experience and will need more than that when facing us," the Frenchman told reporters before a rematch of the 2005 final won 3-0 on aggregate by Ahly.

"The key Ahly players are midfielder Mohamed Aboutraika and striker Emad Moteab and if we stop them, they will be easily contained and we can definitely claim the trophy."

Marchand considers Al-Hilal, the Sudanese club Etoile shaded 4-3 in a two-leg semi-final thriller, a much better team than the Egyptians, who relied on an own goal to edge Al-Ittihad of Libya at the same stage.

"I watched Ahly against Ittihad and they suffered to succeed. Hilal are much better than the Egyptians. I had far more worries ahead of the matches against the Sudanese," he revealed.

Aware that Etoile flopped against Ahly two years ago using hyper cautious tactics home and away, Marchand vowed to unleash a three-man strike force against opponents chasing a record third consecutive Champions League title.

His likely choices are Tunisian Amine Chermiti, leading Etoile scorer in the competition this year with seven goals, three-goal Cape Verdian Gilson 'Ja' Silva and Ghanaian mid-year signing Sadat Bukari.

All are young, quick and slick, and capable of troubling an Ahly defence long on experience but short on pace when brutally exposed 3-0 away to Hilal in the mini-league phase.

"Winning the African Champions League would be a dream. We have a solid squad and wonderful supporters and I cannot accept failure again after losing two of the previous three finals," Chermiti told the Tunisian media.

Etoile were pipped on penalties by Enyimba of Nigeria in the 2004 decider and the club from the Mediterranean resort of Sousse have won every African Football Confederation (CAF) competition except the Champions League.

They also want to end a losing streak by Tunisia in the showcase of African club football as Club Sportif Sfaxien had victory snatched from their grasp last year when Aboutraika struck a stoppage-time winner in Tunis.

While Marchand has been happy to stoke the verbal flames, counterpart Manuel Jose from Portugal has been unusually quiet in the build-up to a match expected to attract a sell-out 25,000 crowd to the modest Olympic Stadium.

Ahly, the most successful club in CAF history with five Champions League victories, four African Cup Winners Cup successes and three African Super Cup triumphs, barred journalists and followers from a midweek flight to Tunisia.

"We do not want to disturb our players as they must focus totally on the final," explained team manager and former Ahly star Hossam al-Badry when the Egyptian-dominated squad touched down.

Angolan midfielder Felisberto 'Gilberto' Amaral, one of three 'imports' used during the 12-match campaign that took Ahly to the final, has been ruled out of the first leg owing to the recurrence of an Achilles injury.

But midfielder Mohamed Barakat, outstanding in the 2005 demolition of Etoile, returns after being sidelined by a knee injury since the semi-final victory over Ittihad.

There was also a recall to the squad for striker Ahmed Belal, out for five months with a fractured foot, but Angolan Flavio Amado and Moteab are the probable starters if Jose opts for a two-man attack.

The return match will be staged on November 9 in Cairo at the 37,000-seat Military Academy Stadium because the much bigger Cairo Stadium is needed for the Pan-Arab Games.

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