CAIRO: Al-Ahly took a small step toward an 11th continental title with a 2-1 win over Wydad AC in the first leg of the African Champions League final on Sunday but were left wondering what might have been. The Egyptians were looking good with a deserved two-goal lead before the Moroccans hit with a late goal, which means that next week’s second leg is very finely poised.
In this rematch from the 2022 final that went the way of Wydad, a first-half header from Percy Tau and a Kahraba strike on the hour put the Red Giants in control before Saifeddine Bouhra hit back to set things up for next Sunday when there will be a big crowd and a hostile atmosphere in Casablanca.
That was the case with 50,000 fans at Cairo Stadium making an unforgettable atmosphere, Al-Ahly made most of the early running. Perhaps attack was always going to be the best form of defense as despite the pre-match news that Mohamed El-Shenawy had recovered from a calf injury and was set to start, in fact third-choice goalkeeper Mostafa Shobeir came in as the second choice stopper also injured. The stand-in stood out.
Al-Ahly dominated possession and just before the half-hour, the game seemed to turn the way of the ten-time continental champions as the referee pointed to the spot, judging that that Hussein El Shahat’s free-kick had been handled by Zouheir El Moutaraji but VAR clearly demonstrated that the ball had hit the back of the head of the turning player.
After 38 minutes, there were more calls for a penalty as Al-Ahly claimed that the impressive El Shahat was brought down in the area by Jalal Daoudi but the appeals were waved away.
Until that point, the Moroccans had barely been visible as an attacking force but had shown in the semifinal elimination of Mamelodi Sundowns that they could not be counted out and before the break, Wydad finally started to ask a question or two.
Shortly after the third-choice goalkeeper had the home fans on their feet. Reda Jaadi picked up the ball in space on the right side of the area but Shobeir came out quickly, made himself big and blocked the shot. It was not the first or the last save that the 23-year-old made look easy.
On the stroke of half-time, Al-Ahly got the goal they deserved. El Shahat kept the ball in play on the byline and his cross from the left found Tau unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box and the South African made no mistake and his smart header guided the ball home.
Wydad came out with a bit more urgency after the break as the game started to open up but found themselves two goals down on the hour. Youssef El Motie, himself the number two goalkeeper for the Moroccans, came far off his line to the right of the area in an attempt to clear a long ball from defense but Shahat got there first. He squared the ball to Kahraba who then had time to pick his spot — high in the Moroccan net — to put the Egyptians firmly in control.
After 68 minutes however, Shobeir was finally beaten by a first-time shot from Yahia Attiyat Allah on the left side of the area but the home fans were relieved to see the ball bounce back from the inside of the post.
Ten minutes later, Shobier saved again, this time for Mohammed Ounajem as the Moroccans pushed for that away goal that would have changed the whole complexion of the tie. And that is what happened with four minutes remaining. Ayoub El Amloud got to the byline on the right to pull the ball back for Bouhra on the penalty spot and he steered the ball home. The delighted celebrations from the visiting team demonstrated with the goal meant.
At the end, Al-Ahly left the field as if they had been defeated but it is all to play for in the second leg and it should be a cracker.