Chances are good
The CAF Confederation Cup might not be good enough for Egypt's Ahli, but they appeared enthusiastic enough to try to win the title for the first time in their history, Ahmed Morsy reports
After crashing out of the CAF Champions League, Ahli's hopes are now focussed on the lower rung CAF Confederation Cup. What makes the tournament challenging is that they have not won it since its new format was introduced in 2004.
In the first leg of the round of 16 in the Confederation Cup, Ahli got off to a flying start by beating Santos FC of Angola 3-0 on Saturday in the Military Stadium in Cairo to make it easier for them in the second leg and to reserve a spot in the group stage.
The hosts took full control from the beginning and could have opened the scoring within seconds from the kick-off when a nice pass from Mohamed Abu Treika released Gilberto on the left but Ahmed Belal couldn't make contact with the Angolan's low cross from point blank.
Ahli kept possession but it wasn't before the 26th minute that they found the back of the net.
A free-kick from the edge of the Santos box was expertly curled by Abu Treika around the wall and into the net to give the lead to the red side.
Ahli kept searching for a second goal but their superiority wasn't transformed into any real chances in the first half. Minutes before the interval, the hosts were forced to replace the injured Belal for Osama Hosni.
The second half brought two early goals for Ahli Substitute Hosni got on the end of two brilliant Abu Treika through-passes to score on 47 and 50 minutes.
Ahli coach Manuel Jose opted to rest Flavio and bring Ahmed Ali in his place. The latter played right-back with Ahmed Fathi switching to a central role.
Ahli totally dominated the game afterwards and scored again midway through the second half but the effort was ruled out for a dubious offside.
Egypt defender Wa'el Gomaa was out of the game due to injury. Mohamed Samir started alongside Shadi Mohamed and Ahmed El-Sayed at the back for Ahli. In the absence of Mohamed Barakat, Ahmed Fathi played at right-back as Abu Treika, Belal and Flavio Amado formed an attacking trident.
Ahli assistant coach Hossam El-Badri was delighted with Abu Treika's display during the game since the Egypt forward's return to form, as he scored once and set up striker Hosni to hit the net on two other occasions.
The six-time African champions' technical staff was recently criticised for counting on Abu Treika while he wasn't fully fit and out of form, but the 31-year-old proved them right on Saturday.
"Abu Treika has been working hard to get back to his best, and that's why I'm really happy for him," El-Badri said after the Santos win.
"His return to form is definitely a great advantage for both Ahli and the Egyptian national side," he added.
While confirming that beating Santos 3-0 was a good result, El-Badri confirmed his team will still need to be cautious when they face the Angolans in the second leg.
"In football, you can take nothing for granted. Anything can happen in the return game and we'll have to be careful," the former Ahli defender added.
Haras Al-Hedoud of Egypt also got what they wanted against Ahli after holding the Libyans to a goalless draw in Tripoli in the first leg of the Confederation Cup round of 16.
The Egyptian Cup winners adopted a cautious strategy that helped them keep a clean sheet, however, they could have also scored a precious goal through some neatly-worked counter- attacks.
Ahli dominated possession in the second half but failed to break down a tight Hedoud defence.
Hedoud, who host Ahli at Max Stadium on 29 May, are now in the driver's seat to book a place in the group stage.
Enppi, the third Egyptian club in the Confederations Cup, salvaged a 2-2 draw at ASEC Mimosas in the same round on Sunday.
The Ivorian side were fired ahead early in the first half when Zagbayou Hugues cannoned an unstoppable long-range shot. But the hosts were back on level terms when Enppi's midfielder Adel Mustafa hit an equaliser on 20 minutes, after being set-up by Vincent Die Foneye.
Koffi Kouame restored ASEC's slender lead 16 minutes from time with a fierce drive, when the Egyptian side eased off a bit. But three minutes later, Ahmed Raouf took advantage of a fatal defensive error to score Enppi's second and secure a precious draw.
A 1-1 draw or a victory in the return leg, which takes place on 29 May in Cairo would be enough for the Petroleum side to qualify for the group stage.
Elsewhere, Confederation Cup holders CS Sfaxien were soundly beaten by hosts Primeiro Agosto in the first leg of their fourth round Confederation Cup tie on Saturday.
The Tunisians, who have won the last two editions of the tournament, were bitterly disappointed after the 2-0 defeat in Angola.
Last year's Champions League runners-up Coton Sport of Cameroon were 3-1 winners against Vita Club of DR Congo in Garoua.
And a last-minute strike gave Stade Malien of Mali a fine chance of getting to the group stage, as they drew 1-1 in Morocco with Al Ittihaad Khemisset.
On Friday, Former African Champions Entente Setif of Algeria came from behind to beat Malian club Djoliba 3-1.
In Kampala, KCC beat Nigeria's Bayelsa United 3-1.