Alexis Mendomo chose the perfect setting to end his African Confederation Cup goal drought as Club Africain of Tunisia edged Moghreb Fes of Morocco 1-0 Saturday in the first leg of the final.
Cameroon-born Mendomo, wearing a white bandana to keep his flowing dreadlocks in place, struck after just seven minutes with a 20-metre drive past goalkeeper Anas Zniti to settle a lively, close encounter.
Moghreb hopes of equalising suffered a blow just before the hour mark when centre-back Samir Zekroumi was sent off after a second yellow card at the 60,000-seat November 7 Stadium.
The Moroccans failed to score on the road for the first time in five African Confederation Cup matches and the Tunisians remain title favourites ahead of the return match on December 4 in Fes.
Club Africain received a massive pre-match fillip when the Confederation of African Football lifted the second half of a two-match spectator ban meted out after trouble during the group phase.
A crowd of 45,000 turned up to see hopes of an African double by Tunisian clubs increase after Esperance defeated Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 1-0 on aggregate last weekend to lift the African Champions League trophy.
While Moghreb displayed a refreshing desire to attack from the kick-off, the home team created the best first-half chances with a free kick from captain Zouhaier Dhaouadi rebounding off the crossbar on 28 minutes.
Midfielder Dhaouadi, among 10 nominees for the 2011 CAF Africa Footballer of the Year award, was a menace at set pieces and his corner just before half-time resulted in a flying header just missing the target.
Moghreb, hoping to become the second consecutive winners of the Cup from Morocco after FUS Rabat defeated CS Sfaxien of Tunisia last year, came close to levelling two minutes into the second half through a Hamza Abourazzouk flick.
It took superb defending to foil another Abourazzouk attempt to snatch a precious away goal for first-time African finalists Moghreb while Wajdi Mechergui went close with a deflected lob for Club Africain.
The African Confederation Cup replaced the African Cup Winners Cup and CAF Cup competitions seven years ago and Tunisian (three titles) and Moroccan (two) clubs have been the dominant forces.
Apart from a 660,000-dollar cheque, the Cup holders qualify face Esperance in Tunisia next February in a one-off match for the African Super Cup and 75,000 dollars.