Kampala. Esperance coach Khaled Yahia and his players, just like KCCA themselves, had been surprised at the visiting team’s early 2-0 lead in the first 25 minutes of the eventual 3-2 victory over the Ugandans in Tunisia a fortnight ago.
To that, he immediately went to work, more intently this time, or KCCA might offer more unpleasant things to them in the return leg in Kampala.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game,” said the Esperance coach, Khaled, “We have a lot of respect for KCCA. We spent the whole week studying their different systems.”
Indeed, they studied Mike Mutebi’s men to detail, allowing them some limited play before scoring through substitute Haythem Jouini and maturely seeing out the game. Khaled had studied Mutebi’s favoured 3-5-2, sucking in Muzamiru Mutyaba, Allan Okello and Patrick Kaddu’s probes, which in turn invited skipper Timothy Awany and his colleagues to push further the highline.
The visitors saw a window of opportunity on 10-man KCCA’s right part of the defence, manned by Bernard Muwanga; a long quality ball finding Jouini, who expertly controlled and drove one step forward to loft over a hapless Charles Lukwago for a 1-0 41st minute lead.
Yet before that KCCA had just missed a good opportunity the other end, Okello sending two Esperance players to Kasese and him taking the opposite direction.
Mutyaba had positioned himself well to receive a resultant tee-on on the edge of the 18-yard box but his short died in the back of an Esperance player.
But it is KCCA that were lucky to stay only 1-0 down, Lukwago, who was sent off after picking his second yellow in the dying minutes, making a crucial save from Yousef Balaili.
The keeper also had to come out and thwart Bilel Merji, who almost doubled the lead immediately after recess with his long range lob bouncing off the cross bar and out.
Merji was through to goal, with KCCA defence beaten but Lukwago used his hands to avert crisis outside the box, picking his first booking in the process.
The other end, Mustafa Kizza, who made some telling deliveries, also came close for KCCA.
The hosts best chance in the second half came off a beautiful move involving Sadam Juma and Isaac Kirabira, with Julius Poloto deliciously dummying back for Sadam – who under normal circumstances should have buried that – to shoot wide.
“It was a good match,” said Mutebi, “Efficiency was the difference. They took care of their chances, we didn’t.
“But overall, good advertisement for African football and for KCCA as an emerging force. Not a good result for us but I’m impressed with the players’ spirit.
“We faced a very experienced side who gave us a good match. They didn’t come here to sit back. They came at us but respected us, and we were also not afraid to play. So it was a good match.”
His Esperance counterpart agreed: “It was a very good game; a real Champions League game quality with a lot of engagement,” said Khaled.
Defeat leaves both KCCA and Botswana’s Township Rollers, who also lost 1-0 to Egypt’s Al Ahly, bottom on three points apiece after four matches.
Esperance top Group A on 10 points with only two games to go while Ahly are second on seven. Ahly’s win meant Esperance qualified for the last eight. The Egyptians are better placed to join them.
But for Mutebi, the fight goes on. “Of course now chances are slim but the belief is still there. We shall continue competing with the best and will try to win the remaining two games.”
Caf Champions League Saturday Group A results
KCCA 0-1 Esperance
Township Rollers 0-1 Al Ahly
Table P W D L F A Pts
Esperance 4 3 1 0 8 3 10
Al Ahly 4 2 1 1 4 2 7
Township 4 1 0 3 2 8 3
KCCA 4 1 0 3 4 5 3