In an all-Tunisian final, CS Sfaxien defied the odds to retain their African Confederation Cup trophy.
By Mark Gleeson in Johannesburg
CS Sfaxien held onto their African Confederation Cup title, beating rivals Etoile Sahel on the away-goals rule.
Despite Sfaxien being the title holders, Sahel went into the two-leg Final as favourites and with the extraordinary record of having reached the Final of an African club competition every year since 2003, when they won the African Cup-winners Cup.
Sahel had set out at the start of 2008 to defend their African Champions League crown but were surprisingly eliminated in the last knockout round before the group stage, which put them in the Confederation Cup in much the same way teams drop out of the group phase of the UEFA Champions League and go into the UEFA Cup.
However, after coming through a tough group, Etoile sacked their Swiss coach, Michel Decastel, less than a week before the Confederation Cup Final. Decastel had taken Sfaxien to the title in 2007 before he jumped ship to join Etoile. But when his new side dropped a few points in the early stages of the League, Decastel – who has since joined Zamalek – was shown the door.
In his stead came Herve Gauthier, a Frenchman serving as the club’s technical director, and his hopes of a caretaker role being made permanent received a major boost when Etoile travelled to Sfax for the first leg of the Final and came away with a well-fought goalless draw.
But two weeks later Sfaxien caught Etoile on the hop at their home ground in Sousse and opened the scoring in the second leg of the Final after just three minutes through Ghanaian striker Agyemang Opoku (who has since been sold to Al Sadd of Qatar).
Emeka Opara, who returned to Etoile at the start of the season after a stint in Germany with Kaiserslautern, levelled just before the hour but Sfaxien bounced back in the 74th minute to regain the lead through Abdelkarim Nafti. Five minutes later, Aymen Abdennour equalised for Etoile to set up a dramatic last 10 minutes of furious attacks which the visitors successfully repulsed.
Gauthier found himself accosted by furious fans at the final whistle and within a week Etoile had signed Franco-German Gernot Rohr as their latest coach.