The final spots in the FIFA Club World Cup were decided in the last few days, as the African and Asian Champions League competitions wrapped up.
On Friday, Etoile Sahel became only the third Tunisian side to win the Africa’s premier club competition, as they scored a 3-1 upset of two-time defending champion and highly-favored Al-Ahly in Cairo.
Al-Ahly seemed to have the advantage heading into the second leg of the final after drawing 0-0 in Tunisia and the home-field advantage on their side.
But, the visitors took control in first-half injury time when Afouene Gharbi struck a volley in the penalty area and got a lucky deflection that sent it past the keeper to make it 1-0 on the night and on aggregate.
But, Al-Ahly got themselves back into the tie with a goal five minutes after the restart, when defender Emad Al Nahhas scored on a header.
Still, they were in need of a victory, and their chances for a win greatly dimmed when Al Nahhas went from hero to goat, getting sent off for a professional foul in the 61st minute.
As if things weren’t already well in their favor, Etoile sealed a historic triumph with two strikes in injury time, sealing the deal with a goal from Amine Chermiti and then adding insult to injury for the home side as Mohamed Ali Nafhka found the back of the net.
Not only did Etoile Sahel win their first AFC title, but it made up for two previous losses in the final, including one two years ago to the Egyptian powers, falling 3-0 in Cairo after a goalless draw in the first leg.
But, they weren’t about to be denied this time around, and put the bad memories behind. As for Al-Ahly, it was a disappointing day, as they were denied a record third straight and sixth overall title, and it was especially displeasing for coach Manuel Jose, who felt that his team’s chances were slighted by the referees. But, the poor guy may have just been looking for someone to pin the blame on after the fans put it squarely on him, throwing things at him during the medal ceremony.
Etoile will play Mexican side Pachuca in the FIFA Club World Cup on December 9th, and will play the winner of the CAF Confederation Cup in the CAF Super Cup. That affair looks likely to be an all-Tunisian affair, as CF Sfaxien will carry a 4-2 lead into the home leg of their final with Sudanese side Al-Marreekh.
In the Asian Champions League final, it was joy for the home side, as Urawa Red Diamonds sealed their first Asian Champions League title with a 2-0 victory over Iranian side Sepahan.
Urawa had the advantage going into the second leg, after a 1-1 draw in Iran, and made the most of it, as Yuichiro Nagai scored in the 22nd minute to give the home side command of the tie. Victory was sealed with Yuki Abe’s 71st minute header, and from there, it was time to celebrate.
Urawa and Sepahan may well meet up in the quarterfinals of the FIFA Club World Cup, as Sepahan gets the nice consolation prize of being able to play for a spot in the tournament, as Urawa automatically get into the quarters. Sepahan must defeat Waitakere United of New Zealand (the Oceania Champions League winner) for that rematch to happen.
Before that though, Urawa have some other business to attend to, namely wrapping up the J-League crown. After a 1-1 draw at Kawasaki Frontale in their last league match, their lead went from seven to five points over Gamba Osaka with three matches to play.
With two home matches in a row coming up, Urawa have the chance to celebrate in front of the home fans once again. Their continental exploits may have distracted them in the last couple of weeks, but now that they’ve taken care of becoming the best team in Asia, they can focus on retaining their title as the best in Japan.
Elsewhere around the world, the Argentine Apertura is winding down, and Lanus have taken hold of top spot after winning their last five matches. With three matches to play, they are on 33 points, three points up on Boca Juniors, and five ahead of Tigre. The title could come down to a Dec. 2 clash between the top two at Boca’s La Bombonera. Tigre can’t be counted out, however, and even if they don’t win the championship, they may play a part in deciding things, as they host Boca on the final day of the season. If there is a tie atop the standings after the final day, instead of a champion being crowned on goal difference, a one-match playoff between the two tied teams will decide the title.
And, over here in the US of A, in the MLS Cup, defending MLS champs New England will take on Houston on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup final, which New England won 4-3 on penalties.
It’s a busy time in the world of soccer, but then again, it always is. That’s the beautiful thing about the beautiful game – it’s one of few true year-round sports. Anywhere, anytime, someone’s playing for something, and that’s what Soccerlens is here for, to report on it all (or as much as humanly possible).