JOHANNESBURG: Celebrated French coach Philippe Troussier made a winning return to Africa as CS Sfaxien defeated Esperance 1-0 in an all-Tunisian CAF Champions League showdown this weekend.
Mohamed Ali Moncer struck on 76 minutes to settle a tense tussle watched by a capacity 30,000 crowd in the Mediterranean industrial city of Sfax.
Moncer retreated from the edge of the penalty area to lose his marker and scored with a rising right-foot drive that gave goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia no chance.
Sfaxien deserved the three points as they created most of the scoring chances, while Esperance relied mainly on an unsuccessful long-ball approach.
Sfaxien and Algerians Entente Setif, who defeated Libyans Al-Ahly Benghazi 2-0, are favoured to advance from Group B to the semi-finals. Setif have eight points with two matchdays left, Sfaxien seven, Benghazi four and twice African champions Esperance just three in a group they were expected to dominate.
It was the perfect start for Troussier, a serious, bespectacled 59-year-old whose success in Africa earned him the moniker ‘white witchdoctor’.
His my-way-or-the-highway approach did not go down well with some football officials and his last African post -- coach of Morocco in 2008.
The shrewd tactician and strict disciplinarian made his name in the early 1990s as coach of leading Ivory Coast club ASEC Mimosas, winning three consecutive league titles.
He went on to guide the national teams of Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and South Africa and other clubs he managed included Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs.
Troussier also worked in China, Japan and Qatar, but a desire to be closer to his Rabat-based family prompted the Sfaxien deal.
“I feel I can win things,” he told his Tunisian employers. Sfaxien could not contain their joy at capturing the French coach with club president Lotfi Abdennadher leading the praise.
“We have never had a coach of his level, experience, ability, ideas and vision.
“Philippe was not hired because of his reputation, but because he is on the same wavelength as us.”
Sfaxien have lifted the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup a record three times and its predecessor, the CAF Cup, once.
But the closest they came to winning the Champions League was finishing runners-up to Egyptians Al-Ahly seven years ago.
Defeat for Esperance, winners once and runners-up twice in the past four editions of the Champions League, means they must win away to Setif early August to avoid elimination.
After successive home draws, Setif got back on the winning trail against a Benghazi side forced to stage home games in neighbouring Tunisia because of lawlessness in Libya. El-Hedi Belameiri became joint leading Champions League scorer with six goals by nudging the ‘Black Eagles’ ahead on 18 minutes and Sofiane Younis nodded a stoppage-time second goal.