CR Belouizdad put in a valiant effort and defended well for the first half on the road in their CAF Champions League second leg clash, but Tunisian giants Espérance found the two goals they needed in the second half to win 2-0 and tie the score on aggregate before prevailing in a penalty kick shootout. The result sets up a blockbuster semi-final matchup against defending champions Al Ahly that will feature two North African powerhouses.
The hosts were largely neutralized in the first half as CRB displayed the tough defense that characterized their performances throughout the CAFCL group stage. Particularly impressive was the performance of goalkeeper Toufik Moussaoui who did well to parry a strong shot from Espérance’s Ghanaian forward Khalid Basit in the first ten minutes.
Ghailene Chaalali came closest in the opening period for the Tunisian side when he unleashed a blast from distance that went just wide and hit the support post in the 25th minute. CRB’s lone opportunity nearly gave them an away goal and put Espérance down and out, but Hamza Bellahouel misfired from close range after being set up by Amir Sayoud.
The match heated up after halftime and CRB continued to hold out, steadily increasing the pressure on the Tunisian champions. Finally the Algerian side’s resistance started to break when the hosts found the opener in the 68th minute. Basit was set up by a perfect cross from the left flank and put a cracking header off the crossbar, causing the ball to bounce to substitute Abdelraouf Benguit, who did well to keep his composure by taking the ball down and sending a precise effort into the top corner.
Tension continued to build as Espérance gained momentum and CRB bunkered down more and more. A moment of quality was needed and young EST star midfielder Mohamed Ben Romdhane provided it in the nick of time. Cutting inside from the left flank in the 87th minute, Ben Romdhane curled an excellent strike that left Moussaoui with no chance and Espérance celebrated their equalizer with passion, causing the game to be stopped when both teams had to be separated by security forces.
CRB managed to hold out despite a lengthy period of stoppage time and the match went to a penalty kick shootout. Espérance manager Moïne Chaâbani opted to substitute his backup goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha into the match in the 82nd minute in anticipation of the PK shootout and the move was a stroke of genius. Tied 2-2 in the shootout after three kicks for each team, Ben Mustapha came up huge to save CRB’s final two penalties while Benguit converted his to send Espérance through.
Highlights of the match are below.