African Champions League final: 10-man Wydad draw 1-1 with Esperance in first leg
Morocco's Wydad Casablanca and holders Esperance of Tunisia shared the spoils in the first leg of the 2019 African Champions League final with a 1-1 draw in Rabat on Friday night.
Two Ivorians, Fousseny Coulibaly of Esperance and Cheick Comara of Wydad, scored in a game where the Video Assistance Referee (VAR) was used twice.
Wydad played most of the second half with 10-men after captain Brahim Nakach was sent off for two yellow cards in the 49th minute.
The final began at a frantic pace with Wydad pushing forward in the first twenty minutes, but Esperance found their rhythm thanks to Franck Kom and Fousseny Coulibaly in midfield.
The Tunisians broke the deadlock one minute before the break. Coulibaly had his header from a free-kick parried away, but he was quickest to follow up and he found the back of the net to put Moine Chaabani's Esperance in front, with an important away goal.
In an eventful end to the first half, Wydad's reaction was immediate. El Amloud thought he had equalised, but the Egyptian referee, Jihad Gricha, ruled the goal out after consulting VAR.
The drama continued at the start of the second half when hosts Wydad were reduced to 10-men after captain Brahim Nakach was sent off for a second booking.
In the 57th minute VAR was consulted again to check whether Esperance's Khalil Chamm had blocked a goal-bound shot using his hand.
The decision went Esperance's way, but Wydad kept up their momentum despite being a man down, and their pressure told 11 minutes from time.
Cheick Comara struck a header to make it 1-1 and give the Faouzi Benzarti's Wydad some hope ahead of next Friday's second leg.
" I had already said before the match that small details can be decisive. We have seen the two goals scored from two set pieces, which shows that it was not an easy game" said Benzarti, Wydad's coach.
"Esperance is a great team. We had to make a huge effort to come back and score in the game. I would like to thank my players for the level they have shown despite having a player sent off", he added.
Esperance head coach, Mouine Chaabani, expressed his regret about conceding late and being denied an away-win.
"We could have achieved a better result today. We were successful in the first half, but we failed in the second as we couldn't defend our 1-0 advantage.
"The Champions League winners are not yet decided. We are facing a great team, who have enough experience and a great coach. There is still another game for which we have to prepare well."
The 1-1 draw leaves the final wide open ahead of next week's second leg, as Wydad seek to take revenge on Esperance who beat them in the 2011 Champions League final.