North African giants Al Ahly of Egypt and Esperance of Tunisia will lock horns today in Borg El Arab Stadium, Alexandria, Egypt, in the first leg of the finals of the CAF Champions League.
The second leg will be played on 9 November at Stade Olympique de Rades, in Rades, Tunis.
At stake is not just the trophy but the prize of N900 million ($2.5 million or 2.2 million euros), apart from the winner qualifying automatically for the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
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Participating in the Club World Cup by the winner also guarantees at least another N360million or $1 million.
Both sides met in the final of 2012 edition, with Ahly winning 3-2 on aggregate to claim their seventh title.
The two teams are familiar foes on the continent, having met 16 times at various stages of the Champions League, starting with two goalless 1990 qualifiers.
Between them Ahly and Esperance count 10 Champions League titles, with Ahly the record champions having eight titles, with two for the Tunisians.
The 2018 final will be Ahly’s 12th appearance in the final, an African record, losing on three occasions.
On the other hand, Esperance has reached the ultimate stage six times before, winning twice and losing four times.
CAF is deploying Video assistant referees (VAR) in today’s match.
The system allows off-field referees to assist match officials regarding goals, penalty and straight red card decisions, and mistaken identity when awarding red and yellow cards.
VAR has been used once before in Africa, for the 2018 CAF Super Cup match between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While VAR has been both lauded and loathed by footballers and officials, its use at the World Cup in Russia this year was considered “largely successful” by FIFA.
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“We used it for the Super Cup last February without any hitches and are delighted to go a step further,” CAF general secretary Amr Fahmy said.
“This is another historic moment for African football. CAF is determined to use the latest innovative technologies available.”
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