Egypt’s al-Ahly club soccer players arrived in Tunis on Thursday receiving a warm reception by fans of their rival Esperance club.
Cairo’s al-Ahly are set to face home side Esperance for the final of the African Champions League match on Saturday.
Players making a swift exit from the airport into a shuttle walked past fans holding up a banner that read: ‘Welcome to our Egyptian brothers to their second home.’
The president of one al-Ahly fans association said supporters only wanted the best team to win and enjoyed being welcomed by their rivals.
“Rapturous reception, great and hospitable people, we like them. Of course the final is between two Arab clubs, and whether Esperance becomes the champion or al-Ahly, the most important thing is who plays better. We will be happy for whoever deserve[s] it, regardless of whether it is Tunisia or Egypt. We are not fanatic supporters, we like good play. Esperance are a good team,’ he said.
Tunisia’s Interior Ministry has indicated the African Champions League final in Tunis will have a restricted crowd of 35,000 due to fears of stadium violence and civil unrest.
Esperance are poised to take the title for a second successive year in the second leg against al-Ahly in the 65,000 seater Rades Stadium. The first leg in Cairo ended 1-1.
Tunisia’s Interior Ministry, which has confined most professional football to behind closed doors over the last year, has granted permission for the selling of tickets for just over half the capacity of the ground.
Egyptian authorities also allowed a restricted crowd to attend the first leg.
Tunisian spectators have been allowed to watch internationals and some Champions League group games but all league matches last season were played inside locked stadiums after a spate of stadium violence.
The ‘Arab Spring’ took hold in Tunisia almost two years ago and restrictions continue in place at matches for fear crowds represent a possible springboard for civil unrest.
Officials said the interior ministry had planned to allow 27,000 tickets to be sold but that number has been increased after complaints from the Confederation of African Football, keen to ensure their showpiece final is played against a backdrop of a noisy and excited crowd.
Crowd violence has been a regular occurrence at Champions League finals over the last decade, including at Rades over the last two years.
In 2010, Esperance fans threw missiles onto the pitch during the game and afterwards during the post-match presentation ceremony as their team were beaten in the final.
Last year, teargas was fired by police to stop fighting between Esperance supporters and fans of beaten finalists Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.
In August, Tunisia’s other representatives in the Champions League, Etoile Sahel, were kicked out of the competition after rioting fans caused the abandonment of a group match.