The CAF Champions League first-leg clash between Wydad Casablanca and Esperance ended in a cagey, nail-biting 1-1 result at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium on Friday night.
Esperance, who are hoping to become only the fourth team in the competition’s history to win back to back titles, scored first; taking the lead through Fousseny Coulibaly in the 44th minute.
Nigeria international Junior Lokosa started for the Tunis club, and was a handful for the 88 minutes he graced the turf.
But, the home side did not sit back as they pushed for an equalizer before the break, and probably thought they’d got it when Ayoub El Amloud scored, but Referee Gehad Grisha chalked it off for a hand ball – after consulting with VAR.
After the restart, there was more controversy, when in the 49th minute Wydad player, Brahimi Nakach was sent off for a second bookable; having earlier been booked.
The home side must have felt hard done by again, as they thought they deserved a penalty after Khalil Chemmam appeared to have handled the ball inside the box.
But yet again, the Referee made the right call – with the aid of VAR – and waved it off.
The game was now poised, Wydad on a damage control mission as well as pressing at least for a draw.
And that decision saw several tactical changes including Coach Faouzi Benzarti withdrawing Michael Babatunde just after the hour mark.
Nonetheless, it was Esperance that still had the momentum and could have sealed a win; a huge advantage heading into the second-leg, but it wasn’t to be on this night.
In the 79th minute, Cheick Ibrahim Camara did the unlikely, scoring for Wydad to level things up in Rabat.
The battle now shifts to the Stade Olympique de Radès on May 31.