The Red Devils of Cairo threw away a half time lead to go down 2-1 to ASEC in the Ivory Coast with only the 2-0 aggregate lead from the first leg securing their passage to the two legged final against Club Sportif Sfaxien of Tunisia.
“If ASEC had scored a third goal in the second half we would have gone out. I’m sure of that,” bemoaned Jose, who guided Ahly to Champions League glory in 2001 and last year.
“We were very good in the first half against excellent opponents. We controlled the match and deservedly led at half-time after taking the one chance that came our way.
“But the second half was a joke from an Ahly perspective and I’m very upset with my players. In the final we must be the real Ahly and not the ‘cartoon’ we were in the second half,” Portuguese coach Jose told reporters in Ivory Coast.
Having survived that scare the coach knows believes his side can win their fifth title and in doing so equal the record of fellow Cairo outfit Zamalek.
“I believe we have the edge because my players have a lot of experience in this competition. The most important thing is to score two or three goals in Cairo. If we can do that, Ahly will retain the title.”
The first leg of the final will be played at the 80,000 seat Cairo Stadium on the weekend of October 27-29 with the return match played two weeks later at Taieb Mhiri Stadium in Sfax or Rades Stadium in Tunis.
The clubs both had one win each when they played during the competition with Sfaxien ending a 78-match unbeaten run spanning two years by Ahly in Africa when they beat them 1-0 at home and the Egyptians gained revenge by winning 2-1 in Cairo.
Sfaxien coach Mrad Mahjoub, whose team edged Orlando Pirates of South Africa 1-0 at home Saturday after a goalless first leg in Johannesburg, has mixed views about where his workaholic players should confront Ahly.
“I would prefer the match to be played in Sfax so we can share the occasion with our local supporters,” said the coach whose former posts included guiding the national team and legendary Tunis club Esperance.
“But Sfaxien is a Tunisian team and all our countrymen have the right to support us. Playing in Rades will guarantee a bigger crowd and our fans are used to travelling to support us.”
The stadium in the Mediterranean town of Sfax has 22,000 seats and the Rades Stadium, built for the 2004 African Nations Cup tournament, accommodates almost three times as many spectators.
While his counterpart fumed Mahjoub lavished praise on the only side among the eight qualifiers for the pool phase who have not lifted the Champions League trophy.
“I want to congratulate my players for their application and sacrifice which led to the victory over Pirates. We circulated the ball well, held possession, and pinned our opponents in their half.
“We have sacrificed a lot since the start of the Tunisian season, neglecting our league form to maintain our chance of getting to the Champions League final. I’m so happy because it is not every year that your team qualifies.”
Defender Wissem al-Abdi and midfielder and captain Anis Boujelbene have delayed lucrative transfers to Qatar and Egypt respectively to assist Sfaxien, who are making only their third appearance in the competition.