Former winners Esperance put up a good fight against Ethiopian champions, Saint George, to gain a point in front of a packed Addis Ababa Stadium on Tuesday despite finishing the game with ten men.
Midfielder Ghilane Chalali was sent off on 64 minutes but still the Blood & Gold held on and return to their base with a point.
The result leaves Esperance at summit of Group C on four points, whilst group stage debutants Saint George have two points also from two games.
The Ethiopians welcomed back star striker Salahdin Said and midfielder Menetesnote Adane from suspension, although their Dutch coach Mart Nooij missed out through illness.
The first 25 minutes of the duel saw a cautious approach from both sides. The hosts were the first to pull the trigger as Adane struck a long range effort which Esperance goalie Moez Ben Cherifia collected calmly in the 18th minute.
Five minutes later, Chalali wasted what was his side’s best chance to draw level after shooting wide from the edge of the homers penalty area.
At the stroke of half time, former Ethiopia international Zerihun Tadele, who replaced injured goalkeeper Robert Odongkara earlier in the game, pulled off a great save to deny Chalali from a free-kick.
Saint George resumed stronger spurred on by the boisterous crowd at the stadium. Veteran striker Adane Girma shot wide after Said put him through just four minutes into the second half.
Minutes later, Burkinabe winger Abdoul Zoko struck wide of the near post before Said headed wide from close range. The homers maintained control and four minutes past the hour mark, Chalali, by far Esperance’s best player, was shown the marching off orders after a second a yellow card.
Despite the numerical advantage, the Ethiopians domination faded away and were let off the hook when a Taha Yassine Khenissi header missed target narrowly.
In the 72nd minute, Ben Cherifia came to Esperance’s rescue by denying Prince Waongo before stopping Zoko’s curler in stoppage time.
Holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa are guest of AS Vita of DR Congo in the other Group C match later on Wednsday.
Fasil Tekalegn (Assistant Coach, Saint George)
We are aware of the threat our opponents pose. They are a very compact, good and strong side. We came into the game to collect the maximum points. We did not play as expected in the first 45 minutes. In the second half, we had opportunities to settle the tie. We couldn’t finish the chances we created at the final third since we were poor in our execution. I’m not content with the result but the boys gave everything and I want to show them my appreciation. We will get prepared for the next game.
Moïn Chaabani (Assistant Coach, Esperance)
We are very satisfied with the outcome of the game. The game was tough as we expected and we were forced to play more than 30 minutes with ten players. Saint George have good players and they made the game even harder. In the first half, we missed an absolute sitter from close range. We congratulate our players for the motivation and dedication. They appear fatigue after a busy schedule during the last three weeks. If you can’t win the three points, always try to get one point, and that is what we have done here.
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