Despite being title favourites, Ahli paid the price of some slack defending and were held to a 3-3 draw in their group stage opener against Wydad Casablanca of CAF Champions League, Ahmed Morsy reports
Six-time African champions Ahli yielded their lead twice to let Wydad Casablanca of Morocco hold them to a breathtaking 3-3 draw in the group B of CAF Champions League at the Military Academy stadium on Sunday. The game was played behind closed doors as a punishment for the Cairo Club due to the unruly crowd behaviour in the final qualifying round.
Group B, an all-North Africa pool, includes former title holders Mouloudia Alger of Algeria and Esperance of Tunisia. Meanwhile, the four teams of the group remain tied on one point owing to Saturday's 1-1 draw between Esperance and Mouloudia.
Ahli, who were crowned Egyptian league champions a fortnight ago, appeared to suffer from league hangover. Moreover, they were badly affected by the absence of the vociferous chants of their fans which they got used to during their crucial encounters.
The Egyptian champions were stunned merely after two minutes when Ayoub Al-Khaliqi found space on the right to whip in a cross which Ahli's defender Sherif Abdel-Fadil, under pressure from Congolese striker Fabrice N'Guessi, converted into his own net to give 1992 winners Wydad Casablanca the early lead. Nevertheless, television replays showed that N'Guessi was in an offside position when Al-Khaliqi sent in the cross at the near post.
Only two minutes later, Ahli successfully levelled the score after the Mauritania striker Dominique Da Silva, under duress from several defenders in the area, battled to keep the ball before feeding the unmarked Emad Meteb to notch home with aplomb from close range.
Wydad remained dangerous thanks to the shaky-looking defence of Ahli which struggled hard to deal with the visitors' attacking trio N'Guessi, Mouhssine Iajour and Ahmed Ajeddou.
In the 22nd minute, the Egyptian side were gifted a penalty by defender Hisham Al-Omrani who sloppily handled Sayed Moawad's cross from the left flank and received a yellow card. Wael Gomaa stepped up to convert the penalty into the bottom corner in spite of a desperate attempt from the Wydad's keeper, who dived the right way, to block it.
With the absence of the mercurial midfielder Mohamed Barakat due to injury, Ahli remained sluggish in the second half as Mohamed Nagi 'Gedo' took the role of playmaker and rarely fed the inaccessible due Meteb and Dominique with through passes.
In the 59th minute, Meteb had the chance to double the score when he latched onto a through pass to break the offside trap and go clear, but his poor low shot was easily saved by the keeper. Consequently, Ahli were punished for the squandered opportunities and let the visitors equalise one minute past the hour mark.
N'Guessi excellently tricked defender Ahmed El-Sayed on the edge of the area before sending a pinpoint cross to the far post, where Iajour escaped his marker to volley home to make it 2-2.
Ahli coach Manuel Jose introduced newly-singed forward El-Sayed Hamdi, who joined from Petrojet few days ago, instead of the ineffectual Gedo. In the 75th minute, it was Da Silva who gave Ahli the lead again when central midfielder Hossam Ghali provided him with a perfect through pass which placed him in a one-on-one situation with the keeper. Da Silva gathered it before the keeper to slot into an empty net.
One minute from time, however, Wydad levelled the score again when Iajour made good use of Abdel-Fadil's defending blunder to rob the Ahli sweeper of the ball and fire in a left- footed shot that was deflected in off the latter just above the body of Adel.
Following the game, Jose placed his confidence in defender Abdel-Fadil despite his poor performance.
"Abdel-Fadil performed well in the game but luck was against him in the first and last minutes of the match, but I am very confident in his abilities," Jose said in the post-game press conference.
"Wydad start their season but we still suffer from the Egyptian league competition that finished two weeks ago," the Portuguese coach added.
"We still have a chance to qualify in the coming round as we have matches in hand," he stressed.
"The fans' absence affected the players' performance in the game," Jose concluded.
Ahli's away match against Wydad of Morocco is scheduled to be played on 30 July.
Regarding Group A, Sudanese side Al Hilal held two-time winners Enyimba 2-2 in Nigeria on Sunday, while ten-man Coton Sport of Cameroon forced a 0-0 draw away to Raja Casablanca of Morocco in the other match on the same day. Hence, the four teams of the group are also tied on one point after the two draws.