On June 1, a heavyweight battle between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool will ensue in Madrid for the Champions League title, rated as the biggest club competition in the world of football, for sure in Europe. It involves two premier league teams, the Spurs vs the Reds, going full-tilt for European supremacy with nary a non-English club in sight. It’s Kane vs Salah. It’s manager Pochettino vs Klopp with Poch’s high energy press vs Klopp’s gegenpressing. It’s Tottenham’s world cup winning France captain Lloris vs Liverpool’s captain Henderson of England.
Prepare for no quarter to be given.
But the CAF (Confederation of African Football) Champions League final also features two very combative opponents — Espérance de Tunis against WAC (Wydad) Casablanca of Morocco with the first leg being contested 24 May in Morocco, and the second leg in Tunisia on 31 May.
Espérance is the reigning CAF Champions League kings and the two teams have a deep history. This upcoming contest is the second time Espérance and Wydad will face each other in the CAF final after the 2011 contest when the Tunisian team won. And, in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, Wydad and Esperance dominated the same opponent, Egypt's Al-Ahly. Overall, Wydad and Esperance are two of the most decorated North African teams.
Additionally, Wydad’s manager Faouzi Benzarti, who was born in Tunisia, previously won 9 Tunisian League titles with Étoile du Sahel and Espérance. He also managed Raja Casablanca, helping them to reach the final of the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup. And, last summer he led his Tunisian national team in World Cup Russia 2018. He is a most sought after manager. Now he leads Wydad against one of his former clubs, Espérance.
Could you ask for any more drama?
They say English football fans are mad for their sport and their teams. But North African football fans appear similarly enthusiastic. Badr Berrada, founder of BBN Times, loves the blood and thunder of English football and is a fan of Arsenal. But he was born in Casablanca and supports Wydad, which has won a record of 19 Moroccan League titles, 9 Moroccan Cups and 8 Moroccan Super Cups. In continental competitions the club has won 2 CAF Champions League titles...with a third one on the line this month.
Berrada says of his team’s chances:
“Manager Benzarti knows Espérance very well. He is an offensive coach, who likes to play an attacking style of football. He is often shouting and screaming on the touchline. He is a very demanding person, and can bench anyone in the team. As for possible game winners for Wydad, winger Ismail El Haddad is one of our best players. He is very fast and also strong and is a really good technical player. This year we are playing with a false number nine. The manager Benzarti is not convinced of our strikers, so he relies on Heddad on the left wing, and Mohamed Ounajem on the right wing to provide assists to the false number nine.”
He has tremendous respect for Benzarti’s former team, Espérance, further suggesting:
“Esperance is a well-organised team and a cohesive unit. Although I prefer the final be played on a neutral ground like UEFA’s Champions League, this CAF final will be played over two legs. Esperance are the favourites for me because they have already lost against Raja this year in the African Super Cup. They don’t want to lose another final again this year. Losing the Super Cup against a Moroccan team will provide them more motivation to beat us. It’s going to be a really tough two games. But we lost against them in 2011, and it’s time to get our revenge!”
"EST fan Mourad Bensalem with local football trophy in his new home in Los Angeles"
As for Espérance, one of my fellow football loving fans in Los Angeles is Mourad Bensalem, who’s a lifelong fan of his hometown EST. He runs a family business, MBS Baba Foods, but still plays football in Los Angeles and is keen to see his Tunisian club play a Moroccan rival again, saying:
“We’ve won three CAF Champions League titles, and won our first Champions League title with manager Benzarti in 1994. Now, we’re playing against him and his Wydad team. I’ve been an Espérance fan since I was four years old. I remember my uncle took me to watch my first game in the Tunisian championship and we won 4-0. Then, for my fifth birthday I asked my parents to get me a EST uniform. Also, in the neighborhood that I grew up, we kids used to see Nabil Maloul. a famous soccer player who also used to live in the area. Maloul played for EST in the 1980s, and he was EST coach in 2011 when we won our second CAF Champions League. It’s amazing we, Espérance, are in another final, this one against Wydad, in our 100th anniversary year.”
Here’s to a grand CAF Champions League final. May the better team win!
Ashley is an award-winning journalist/author/blogger who has written for Playboy, Toronto Star, Movie Entertainment, Sports Illustrated, Maclean's and others. He's interviewed various "leaders" in their fields, including: Oscar winners (Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lawrence, Alicia Vikander, Jane Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Geena Davis, Anthony Hopkins); Grammy winners (Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Ice Cube, Pete Townshend); MVPs in sports (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky, Kobe Bryant); and, business leaders (Amazon's Jeff Bezos). He has an upcoming novel, REJEX, coming out on Pulp Hero Press. And he has written several episodic TV shows, appeared on CNN, and blogged for Mademan, Medium, GritDaily and HuffPost.