CAIRO: Al-Ahly have received a tongue lashing from coach Manuel Jose despite reaching a second consecutive African Champions League final at the weekend.
Portugal-born Jose was furious after the Red Devils of Cairo meekly surrendered a half-time lead against ASEC in Ivory Coast to lose 2-1 in the second leg of a semi-final Sunday.
Fortunately for four-time Champions League holders Ahly they had took a 2-0 lead into the return match and qualified 3-2 on aggregate to meet Club Sportif Sfaxien of Tunisia in the two-leg decider.
If ASEC had scored a third goal in the second half we would have gone out. I m sure of that, bemoaned Jose, who guided Ahly to Champions League glory in 2001 and last year.
We were very good in the first half against excellent opponents. We controlled the match and deservedly led at half-time after taking the one chance that came our way.
But the second half was a joke from an Ahly perspective and I m very upset with my players. In the final we must be the real Ahly and not the cartoon we were in the second half, Jose told reporters in Ivory Coast.
The graying coach who chews gum with the same intensity as Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson considers Ahly favorites to win a fifth Champions League title and equal the record of fellow Cairo outfit Zamalek.
I believe we have the edge because my players have a lot of experience in this competition. The most important thing is to score two or three goals in Cairo. If we can do that, Ahly will retain the title.
Ahly host the first leg at the 80,000-seat Cairo Stadium over the weekend of Oct. 27-29 with the return match at Taieb Mhiri Stadium in Sfax or Rades Stadium in Tunis two weeks later.
The clubs clashed in the group stage with Sfaxien winning 1-0 at home to end a 78-match unbeaten run spanning two years by Ahly in Africa and the Egyptians gained revenge by winning 2-1 at home.
Sfaxien coach Mrad Mahjoub, whose team edged Orlando Pirates of South Africa 1-0 at home Saturday after a goalless first leg in Johannesburg, has mixed views about where his workaholic players should confront Ahly.
I would prefer the match to be played in Sfax so we can share the occasion with our local supporters, said the coach whose former posts included guiding the national team and legendary Tunis club Esperance.
But Sfaxien is a Tunisian team and all our countrymen have the right to support us. Playing in Rades will guarantee a bigger crowd and our fans are used to traveling to support us.
The stadium in the Mediterranean town of Sfax has 22,000 seats and the Rades Stadium, built for the 2004 African Nations Cup tournament, accommodates almost three times as many spectators.
While Jose fumed as his team tired dramatically under relentless second-half pressure from ASEC, Mahjoub lavished praise on the only sie among the eight qualifiers for the pool phase who have not lifted the Champions League trophy.
I want to congratulate my players for their application and sacrifice which led to the victory over Pirates. We circulated the ball well, held possession, and pinned our opponents in their half.
We have sacrificed a lot since the start of the Tunisian season and neglecting our league form to maintain our chance of getting to the Champions League final. I m so happy because it is not every year that your team qualifies.
Defender Wissem al-Abdi and midfielder and captain Anis Boujelbene have delayed lucrative transfers to Qatar and Egypt respectively to assist Sfaxien, who are making only their third appearance in the competition.