Setif close on Champions League glory

Algerians Entente Setif will be crowned surprise winners of the Champions League on Saturday if they can at least hold their away goals advantage over Vita Club.

Setif go into the second leg with confidence high having secured a

2-2 draw

away last Sunday.

It is remarkable situation for a team that was dismissed by many as not being good enough before the start of the competition.

Setif coach Kheireddine Madoui admitted to reporters that the Black Eagles came close to withdrawing from the Champions League this year.

“National football federation officials wanted us to pull out for scheduling reasons and also because it was felt our club would not be very competitive in Africa,” he said.

“We lost a lot of our squad this year and had to rebuild,” added the 37-year-old former Setif midfielder who became coach only three months ago.

However, fears that Setif would struggle were quickly allayed as Setif started by thumping Burkinabe visitors ASFA Yennenga 5-0 with leading scorer El Hedi Belameiri among the goals.

The Algerians have played 13 matches ahead of the second leg of the final at the 45,000-seat Stade Mustapha Tchaker in Blida, 50 kilometres south of Algiers.

And they lost only one, a 3-2 semi-final, second-leg defeat away to four-time African champions TP Mazembe, the other Congolese contenders.

Entente boast a proud home record in the Champions League since a 1987 debut, winning 20 matches, drawing five, losing one and keeping 18 clean sheets.

But Madoui has warned Algerians that the battle for a $1.5m first prize and a place at the 2014 Fifa Club World Cup in Morocco is far from over.

“Our supporters must remember that Vita Club went to Tunisia in the semi-finals and won 2-1 against CS Sfaxien,” he said.

“What drawing in Kinshasa did for us was create opportunities and the backing of our supporters could be crucial.”

Displaying a desire to attack from the kick-off at Vita Club, Setif were ahead within 17 minutes when leading scorer Ndombe Mubele turned a corner into his own net.

The Black Eagles regained the lead early in the second half with a classic counter-attack goal as Akram Djahnit exchanged passes with Abdelmalik Ziaya before tapping the ball into the net.

Lema Mabidi ended a five-match goalless streak by levelling twice for the Black Dolphins, first from the penalty spot, and through an unstoppable drive from outside the box.

Tradition suggests Vita Club could avoid finishing runners-up to an Algerian club a second time as they were 5-0 overall losers to JET in the 1981 final.

Of the three clubs held 2-2 at home in the first leg of a Champions League final, two went on to lift the trophy.

Cameroonians Canon Yaounde walloped Congolese Bilima 3-0 in Kinshasa and South Africans Orlando Pirates stunned Ivorians ASEC Mimosas 1-0 in Abidjan.

Before winning at Sfaxien, Vita Club defeated five-time champions Zamalek in Egypt and held experienced campaigners Al-Hilal in Sudan.

“That own goal in the first leg severely disrupted us,” conceded Congo-born Vita Club coach Florent Ibenge, a 52-year-old who grew up in France and played lower-league football there and in Belgium and Germany.

“But a draw keeps alive our hopes of lifting the trophy and I have great faith that we can counter-attack in Algeria just as effectively as Setif did in Congo.”

While Setif are guaranteed a 2015 Champions League place whatever the outcome, Vita face life in the less lucrative Confederation Cup next year unless they lift the trophy.

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