Etoile du Sahel and Orlando Pirates set for tight final

By Mark GleesonBBC Sport
Orlando Pirates
Orlando Pirates are eager to make the most of home advantage on Saturday

Tunisian football clubs have long been overachievers on the continental club stage with a regular parade of clubs from the north African country reaching the final of one of the two annual competitions.

Etoile du Sahel are among those who have been at the forefront of the consistent success, albeit their last final appearance ended in defeat in the 2008 African Confederation Cup.

On Saturday they will compete in the final again after a seven-year hiatus as they face Orlando Pirates of South Africa.

The match is the finale of what has arguably been the strongest field yet for Africa's second tier club competition.

To reach the final, the pair have emerged above the likes of Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek, as well as the Tunisian pair of Esperance and CS Sfaxien, plus former African champions ASEC Abidjan, Hearts of Oak and Raja Casablanca.

It promises to be a tightly contested affair as the clubs meet for the first time having both finished second in their respective groups but then upset the Egyptian pair in semi-final upsets.

The first leg at the Orlando Stadium will be followed by a return tie in Sousse on Sunday, 29 November.

Pirates are looking for an advantage to take to the game in Tunisia, where the trophy is to be lifted.

"Key to our success against Ahly in the semi-finals was the fact that we didn't concede at home and that was something I had to reiterate strongly to the players," coach Eric Tinkler said.

"It was very important for us to win at home, but it was more important not to concede at home and we achieved that objective and that was is what we need to apply in this game as well.

"Yes, we need to go all out and we would like to win the game 2-0 or 3-0 but I would prefer to win the game 1-0 than to win the game 3-1 because that one away goal makes a huge difference.

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"I believe our form away from home has been extremely good and we have managed to score in every game away from home and I believe we will do that (in the final), but it is very important that in this game we don't concede at home," Tinkler added.

Etoile arrived in Johannesburg on a charter plane on Wednesday having completed a training camp at the seaside in preparation for the game.

They had their players up at 06:30 daily, running up and down sand dunes on the beach in a tough physical preparatory program.

Coach Faouzi Benzerti put the players through their paces with training three times daily while other staff coaches carried out in-depth video analysis of the South African club.

"We expect Pirates will be looking to attack so we need to balance our approach carefully and use the spaces they create," Benzerti told Tunisian media before departure.

First Caf titles

Central defender Zied Boughattas has been passed fit after a spell out with injury as is the case with offensive midfielder Hamza Lahmer, who pulled out of Tunisia's two World Cup qualifiers against Mauritania.

Founded 90 years ago, Etoile have won a total of seven continental titles to just one for the South Africans.

Both clubs had their first success in 1995 when Pirates won the old style African Champions Cup and Etoile the now defunct Confederation of African Football Cup.

Etoile Sahel achieved a long-held goal of success in the Champions League with a surprise victory in 2007, beating Al Ahly away from home in Cairo to take the prize. They had been runners-up twice before that in 2004 and 2005.

But in was in the old African Cup Winners' Cup and Confederation of African Football Cup that the side from the coastal city of Sousse made their biggest mark, winning both of the continental competitions twice. They appeared in four Caf Cup finals.

They were winners of the 2006 Africa Confederation Cup, beating Morocco's Royal Armed Forces on the away goal rules.

Two years ago Pirates reached the Champions League final but lost to Al Ahly.