Saturday May 15, 2021. 23:16
CAF Champions League title holders Al Ahly hold a strong 2-0 advantage after the first leg of their quarterfinal tie against Mamelodi Sundowns, held at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Saturday night.
A hard-fought clash between the team currently managed by Pitso Mosimane and the one he built into the dominance force in South African football, was decided by a brilliant first-half strike from the Red Devils’ Taher Mohamed and a fortunate second goal from substitute Salah Mohsen in the dying minutes.
Al Ahly started strongly, pressing high up the pitch to try and force Sundowns into mistakes. However, the South African side soon found their rhythm and created two fine chances around the 20-minute mark.
The first saw Gift Motupa hit the post with a glancing header from Aubrey Modiba’s in-swinging free kick delivery, while a corner kick shortly thereafter allowed Motupa to again get on the end of a set piece but send an effort wide of goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy’s left-hand post.
‘Downs were immediately made to rue those misses, as Ahly claimed the lead on 23 minutes through a superb solo goal from Taher Mohamed. The attacker picked up a long pass out to the left flank before cutting inside and working space for a fiercely-hit shot from just outside the ‘D’ of the penalty area which rocketed past goalkeeper Denis Onyango for 1-0.
The Brazilians did not let their heads drop or lose their patient passing approach in the wake of the goal, though the absence of playmaker Themba Zwane certainly hampered their ability to unlock their opponent’s defence from open play.
The start of the second stanza saw Ahly make a change in defence, as Yasser El Hanafi replaced Rami Rabia, who was walking a tightrope after an early yellow card and could easily have been sent off in the first half.
Just before the hour mark Sundowns again looked dangerous from a set piece, with a corner kick from Modiba picking out Mosa Lebusa’s run ahead of the near post – his glancing effort was on target, but well saved by El Shenawy.
That chance saw the start of a sustained spell of dominance from Sundowns, who also switched up their attack with the introduction of Kermit Erasmus midway through the second half. On 71 minutes Motupa drew an excellent save from Ahly’s ‘keeper with a curling long-range effort that looked destined for the back of the net.
As ‘Downs pressed forward in the dying minutes they ran the risk of conceding a second goal, with Ahly’s substitute Salah Mohsen providing a 2-0 lead when he took advantage of a misjudgement from Onyango, who had come way off his line to try and claim a hopeful punt forward from Junior Ajayi.
The return game will be played at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Tshwane on Saturday 22 May. The aggregate winners will advance to the semifinals and face either CR Belouizdad or Esperance de Tunis.
Al Ahly (1) 2 (Mohamed 23’, Mohsen 90’)
Mamelodi Sundowns 0
Ahly: El Shenawy, Hany, Rabia (El Hanafi 46’), Banoun, Ashraf (Wahid 83’), El Soulia, Dieng, Magdi Kafsha, El Shahat (Mohsen 61’), Mohamed (Ajayi 75’), Sherif (Bwalya 83’)
‘Downs: D. Onyango, Nascimento, Coetzee, Lebusa, Morena, Maboe, Mkhulise, Modiba (Lakay 79’), Sirino (Erasmus 68’), Shalulile, Motupa (Mkhuma 79’)