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Young Africans triumph ‘will be difficult but not impossible’

Young Africans coach Nasreddine Nabi says overcoming a one-goal deficit in the CAF Confederation Cup final second leg at USM Alger on Saturday “will be difficult but not impossible”. 

ALSO READ: Mayele could be Young Africans’ trump card in Confed Cup final

The Algerians won the first leg in rain-drenched Tanzania 2-1 last Sunday in front of a capacity 60,000 crowd in the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.

Aymen Mahious nodded USM into a first-half lead and Fiston Mayele levelled eight minutes from time only for Islam Merili to almost immediately put the visitors ahead again.

The outcome has left Young Africans, the first Tanzanian finalists in the second-tier African competition, as outsiders before the return match at the 65,000-seat July 5 Stadium in Algiers.

Tunisian Nabi, a 57-year-old who coached in Libya, Sudan twice and Egypt before joining Young Africans two years ago, accepts that USM are favourites to lift the trophy.

“That is a natural reaction from the public and media given the result in Dar es Salaam, but rest assured we are not coming to Algeria for sightseeing,” he said.

“It will be difficult but not impossible to turn the tide. I cannot promise that the trophy is coming to Tanzania. I can, however, promise that as long as there is hope, we will fight. 

“We have to score a minimum of two goals in Algeria to have any chance and we draw comfort from having achieved that feat away from home in both the quarter-finals and the semi-finals.

“The boys created a lot of chances last weekend despite being up against a very compact defence. This offers us hope and the outcome of the final is far from settled.”  

– Surprise finalists –

Young Africans beat Rivers United 2-0 in Nigeria and Marumo Gallants 2-1 in South Africa en route to becoming surprise finalists in a competition no east African club has won. 

Clubs from the north of the continent have dominated the Confederation Cup with seven successes for Morocco, five for Tunisia and two for Egypt in 19 finals.

Glory has eluded Algeria, however, with Entente Setif, Mouloudia Bejaia and JS Kabylie coming closest by finishing runners-up.

Perhaps that statistic makes USM coach Abdelhak Benchikha cautious despite his team needing only a draw to create history. 

“Young Africans are coming to Algeria with nothing to lose and that makes them dangerous,” warned the 59-year-old who has also guided clubs in Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia and UAE. 

“We have taken an important step toward winning the Confederation Cup, but many times in my coaching career I have seen seemingly promising situations unravel.

“My players did not leave spaces for the Young Africans to exploit in Tanzania and we must do the same at home because they have several very good players, not just Mayele.” 

Democratic Republic of Congo-born Mayele shares first place with Ranga Chivaviro of Marumo in the Golden Boot contest, both having scored seven goals.

The wet weather in Tanzania hampered the 28-year-old forward as it prevented him using the blistering pace that proved so effective against Marumo in the semi-finals.   

Showers are forecast for the Algerian capital on Saturday, with the second leg due to kick off at 2000 local time (1900 GMT).

Whichever club emerges victorious will be two million dollars (1,840 million euros) richer with the first prize increased this season by 750,000 dollars.

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