Saad Bguir was the unlikely two-goal star as Esperance of Tunisia defeated Al Ahly of Egypt 3-0 Friday in Rades to win a third CAF Champions League title.
Bguir had been a reserve for most of the African campaign, scoring just once, and started in the second leg of the final only because Cameroonian Franck Kom was suspended.
After he scored in each half, Anice Badri netted to give Esperance a 4-3 aggregate victory after losing the first leg 3-1 with Ahly converting two controversial penalties.
A dominant performance by the home team at the Stade Olympique de Rades ended a 10-match winless run against Ahly in CAF competitions since July 2011.
After a tense build-up with Esperance furious at the on and off-field treatment they received in Egypt, the match passed without incident before a big crowd in the 60,000-seat venue.
“This is a victory that will remain in my memories,” said Bguir, who dedicated the victory to the supporters and former coach Khaled Ben Yahia.
Ben Yahia left Esperance soon after they lost the first leg of a semi-final to Primeiro Agosto in Angola and the club refused to clarify whether he quit or was sacked.
Tearful winning coach Moine Chaabani, previously an assistant to Ben Yahia, said: “There are some people who left me in life (who) I wished were here today.”
The 37-year-old handler and former Esperance defender then moved from the microphone without mentioning who he was referring to.
Esperance dominated a virtually incident-free first half and took the lead a minute into stoppage time through Bguir.
Slick passing opened the Ahly defence and the midfielder hit the ball wide of goalkeeper Mohamed el Shenawy from close range and into the far corner of the net.
It was a massive morale boost for the ‘Blood and Gold’, whose previous Champions League successes came in 1994 and 2011.
Bguir put Esperance two goals ahead on the night and in front overall on away goals when he struck again on 54 minutes.
Overlapping full-back Sameh Derbali crossed and Bguir found space to nod past El Shenawy from close range.
Ahly needed a goal to get back in front on aggregate, but never troubled Tunisian goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia and Badri put the outcome beyond doubt on 86 minutes.
He intercepted a pass in midfield, beat several defenders and unleashed a scorching shot that flew past El Shenawy.
Success came as a massive relief to Esperance, who have often been Champions League ‘bridesmaids’, losing four of six previous finals in the elite African club competition.
They met Ahly in the group stage this year, drawing 0-0 away and losing 1-0 at home to a goal from Walid Azaro, who was banned from the second leg after deliberately tearing off his shirt in the first match.
Moroccan Azaro was the central figure in the disputed penalties with Esperance saying he dived to win the first spot-kick and feigning being hit for the second.
Esperance supporters reacted to the triumph by shouting, singing, dancing and honking car horns in central Tunis.
Many chanted “1, 2, 3”, referring to the three Champions League titles won against Zamalek of Egypt (1994), Wydad Casablanca of Morocco (2011) and Ahly.
In Cairo, the initially festive mood at crowded cafes turned gloomy after Bguir scored his first goal with half-time imminent.