Hard Etoile will pay off, says coach

TUNIS - The coach of Tunisian team Etoile Sahel has set high standards for the club after just three months in charge, saying he expects the squad to lift its first African Champions League title this season.

"We have prepared well enough to ensure we can win this title for both Etoile supporters and all Tunisians," Frenchman Bertrand Marchand said yesterday. "Today, Etoile Sahel has the technique and organisation to emerge as the best team in Africa."

Etoile Sahel meet Egyptian giants Al Ahli in the first leg of the African Champions League final in Sousse on Tunisia's east coast tomorrow before heading to Cairo for the return leg on November 9.

Etoile plan to start the home contest with three strikers, handing a pivotal central role to teenager Amine Chermiti, who has scored seven goals in this year's competition.

Three Tunisian teams have reached the African Champions League final in the past decade but all have failed to lift the cup.

A 3-0 aggregate defeat to Al Ahli denied Etoile the title two years ago in Cairo, 12 months after they were beaten by Nigerian side Enyimba on penalties.

CS Sfaxien lost last year's final to Al Ahli, who are seeking a third straight title in the tournament, while Esperance lost consecutive finals from 1999.

Marchand, who replaced Tunisian coach Faouzi Benzarti in July, said CS Sfaxien's fate would not be repeated.

"Al Ahli are a great team, full of experienced players and able to create goalscoring opportunities at any time during the match," he said.

"However, they are not in top form right now." - Reuters