On firmer ground
In the African Champions League, Ahli return to the hunt for glory, reports Abeer Anwar
Egypt's Ahli kept their hopes alive in the African Champions League after crushing Algeria's MC Alger 2-0 in Cairo.
What added to Ahli's chances in Group B qualification to the semi-finals was Morocco's Wydad Casablanca's draw against Esperance of Tunisia 2-2 in Tunisia. Goals from Wajdi Bouazzi and Walid Hicheri gave the Tunisian champs a comfortable first-half lead, but the Moroccans replied through Fabrice Nguessi and Youssef Kadioui after the break.
Wydad remain in charge of Group B with five points and a better goal difference than Esperance, also with five, while Ahli are in third place with four points followed by MC Alger, bottom of the group with one point. Three matches for each team remain. The top two in the group go to the semi-finals.
Ahli needed the win badly after collecting just one point from their first two matches in the all-North Africa group.
A brace by Emad Meteb gave Ahli an early two-goal lead but in the second half, the performance faltered badly as Ahli went to sleep.
Nevertheless, Manuel Jose, Ahli's Portuguese manager, said he was satisfied with his team's performance, singling out young defender Rami Rabiaa whom he believed will have a bright future in Ahli. "He will soon be one of the pillars of the team."
Jose added that MC Alger were not an easy opponent and only lacked experience which he said they will acquire with time.
Jose said he was determined to win the remaining three matches to reach the final and recapture the title Ahli won a record six times.
Jose stood behind the sidelines nearly the entire match, a rarity. "I was very nervous and especially after we scored the two goals. I wanted to end up with a goal difference to make our job a bit easier in the coming matches but when I saw the players performance lessened in the second half, I had to be on my toes to end the match safely."
In the return leg in Algeria, Ahli will be without Ahmed Fathi and Hossam Ghali after each collected two yellow cards but Jose made it clear that while they are key players on the team he has substitutes whom he will use to make up for their absence.
Despite his team's loss to Ahli, MC Alger coach Abdul Haq Megullati did not appear disappointed with his team's performance especially in the second half. Megullati told cafonline.com that what he liked most was the sportsmanship and the fair play atmosphere that the match witnessed. He believed both teams produced a good game "that suits their big names on the continent.
"Ahli were much better in the first half but we made some tactical changes in the second half and we looked better." Megullati added that his team's lack of experience affected their performance. "Our players' average age is 23 while the oldest is 26 but Ahli were armed with a number of internationally capped players.
"I expected a bigger defeat but my players were solid and performed well in the second half to narrow the goal difference and keep the net clean all through the second half."
Megullati also attributed their loss to the void left by seven players who left the team after last season and the new recruits who were not available to participate with the team.
In Group A of the same championship, Nigeria's Enyimba clinched their second win in the group phase with a 2-0 victory over Raja Casablanca. The victory put them at top of Group A with seven points from three games. Enyimba's goals were scored by Kalu Uche and Chidozie Johnson in the first half.
Sudan's' Hilal beat Cameroon club side Cotton Sport FC de Garoua 2-1 in Omdurman to keep up with leaders Enyimba in Group A. It was the home side's first win over the Garoua team in three attempts and gives the Sudanese team a total of seven points from three matches.
Goals from captain Hytham Mustafa and Cameroonian Otobong Ene cancelled out Madila Mfoutou Chardin's 11th-minute opener.