Troussier jumps in as CS Sfaxien and Esperance meet in Tunisian derby
No-nonsense French coach Philippe Troussier returns to African combat this weekend after a six-year absence when he leads CS Sfaxien against fellow Tunisians Esperance in the CAF Champions League.
Since quitting as Morocco coach in 2008 just weeks after taking over, Troussier has worked with Japanese and Chinese clubs.
But the desire to be close to his Rabat-based family led 59-year-old Troussier to sign a two-year contract with the four-time CAF title winners.
Sfaxien chairman Lotfi Abdennadher was thrilled at capturing a coach who rose to prominence by winning three consecutive Ivorian titles from 1990 for ASEC Mimosas.
“We have never had a coach of his level, experience, ability and vision. Talking with Philippe I quickly realised we were on the same wavelength.” Troussier succeeds out-of-contract Hammadi Daou, who spent a short time in charge when Dutch coach Ruud Krol moved to Esperance.
He could not have got a tougher baptism with Sfaxien than a Group B clash at home against bitter domestic rivals Esperance.
Opposing former Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and South Africa coach Troussier will be compatriot Sebastien Desabre.
When Krol was axed after Esperance suffered shock losses to Algerians Entente Setif and Libyans Al Ahly-Benghazi, Desabre took charge.
The 37-year-old rising star among Africa-based coaches stopped the rot by plotting a come-from-behind 2-1 early June victory over Sfaxien in Tunis.
This result coupled with the failure of Setif to build on a winning start, means only two points separate the table-topping Algerians from bottom club Esperance.
Were Setif and Benghazi to draw Friday – as they did last month – Esperance would rise from the bottom of the table to the top with a two-goal victory over Sfaxien.
Troussier is renowned as a strict disciplinarian and an early victim of his approach was highly-rated 20-year-old midfielder Ibrahim Ndong.
The Gabonese was kicked out of a training camp because he “lacked rigour and discipline” and a couple of fringe players suffered a similar fate.
Sfaxien won all four Champions League qualifiers with star striker Fakreddine Ben Youssef scoring in each game before defeating Benghazi at home and holding Setif away.
But the loss at Esperance left them second on the standings, one point behind Setif, level with Benghazi, and one point ahead of the ‘Blood and Gold’.
The first Tunisian derby turned in 60 seconds as Oussama Darragi cancelled the lead Maher Hannachi gave Sfaxien, and Idriss Mhirssi snatched the match-winner.
Ongoing lawlessness in Libya means Benghazi must continue to play ‘home’ fixtures in neighbouring Tunisia and a win over Setif would leave them well placed to reach the semi-finals.
The potent mix of Libyan, Egyptian, Nigerian and Zimbabwean stars has already exceeded expectations by eliminating title-holders Al Ahly from Egypt in a qualifier.
Group A is almost as tight with four-time champions TP Mazembe on six points, fellow Democratic Republic of Congo club Vita and Sudanese El-Hilal on four and Egyptians Zamalek on three.
There could be a dramatic swing here, too, with Zamalek going from the bottom to the top if they defeat Mazembe in Alexandria and Vita and Hilal draw in Kinshasa.
Mazembe edged Zamalek 1-0 last month in a bad-tempered clash that led to a three-match ban for visiting striker Dominique da Silva, who assaulted the referee.
“We have three group matches to play – two at home – and positive results in all of them will guarantee us a semi-finals place,” stressed Zamalek coach Ahmed ‘Mido’ Hossam.
A concern for Brazil-born Hilal coach Paulo Campos will be that the Omdurman club have not won away in 13 group games spanning eight years.
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