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Egypt giants Ahly hit Tunisia's Etoile for six to reach Champions League final

Hatem Maher , Sunday 22 Oct 2017
Ahly
Soccer Football - CAF Champions League - Semi-Final - Al Ahly vs Etoile du Sahel - Borg El Arab Stadium, Borg El Arab, Egypt - October 22, 2017 Al Ahly's Walid Azaro celebrates scoring their second goal with team mates Reuters
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Moroccan under-fire striker Walid Azaro silenced his critics in style, scoring a hat-trick as Ahly hammered Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel 6-2 to reach their first African Champions League final since 2013 on Sunday.

Roared on by their passionate crowd at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium, Ahly, trailing 2-1 from the first-leg, opened the scoring as early as the second minute via a cunningly floated free-kick from Tunisian left-back Ali Maaloul.

Azaro, a summer arrival who has come in for fierce criticism from Ahly fans for being profligate in recent Egyptian league games, scored with two carbon-copy headers to give his side a 3-0 halftime lead.

He completed his hat-trick with a simple finish early in the second half but Etoile were briefly given a lifeline when Rami Bedoui pulled one back shortly after, leaving the visitors needing two more goals to qualify on the away goal rule.

However, Ahly ran roughshod over their opponents with a fortuitous own goal from Hamdi Nagguez and a blistering shot from central defender Rami Rabia to go 6-1 up before Iheb Msakni netted a stoppage-time consolation for Etoile.

Ahly advanced to the final with a 7-4 aggregate win to close on a record-extending ninth title. They meet Wydad Casablanca in the final after the Moroccans beat USM Alger 3-1 on Saturday.

Wydad and Ahly met twice in the group stage, each winning their home match. The final first-leg takes place next weekend in Alexandria, with Wydad hosting the return in Casablanca one week later.

Vibrant Ahly

A vibrant Ahly side were hardly affected by the injury of key duo Hossam Ashour and Ahmed Fathi, taking control from the very beginning as Etoile looked disjointed.

Etoile keeper Aymen Mathlouthi could only push Maaloul's free-kick from the right into the roof of the net at his near post, gifting Ahly a timely opener which gave them the lead on the away goal rule.

Ahly's dynamic and flowing moves, especially down the left flank where Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi and Maaloul often linked up, left Etoile's defence in tatters.

One of those neat combinations released winger Moemen Zakareya, whose inch-perfect cross found the unmarked Azaro to power home a header past the hapless Mathlouthi in the 22nd minute.

Although the Red Devils lost playmaker Saleh Gomaa to injury on the half-hour mark, they still attacked at will, exposing huge gaps in Etoile's porous four-man backline.

They went 3-0 up five minutes before the break when the overlapping Maaloul ran onto a pass from Ajayi and sent in a perfectly weighted cross for Azaro, who headed home at the far post.

Etoile's only sight of goal came on the stroke of halftime when Ahly keeper Sherif Ekramy handled a tame header from Alaya Brigui.

The fans barely had time to settle into their seats in the second half when Azaro completed his hat-trick with a simple finish after a low cross from Zakareya but Etoile pulled one back on 51 minutes after central defender Bedoui leapt above Saad Samir to head a free-kick past Ekramy.

But any hopes Etoile had of scoring two more goals and causing an upset were extinguished in bizarre fashion seven minutes later as Ahly added a fifth.

Substitute Walid Soliman burst clear but could not hold off his two chasers. With the ball slipping out of his control, it rebounded off the back of Nagguez, one of the two defenders who fell while trying to thwart Soliman, and rolled past the advancing keeper and into the net, to the astonishment of the Ahly winger who laughed in disbelief.

It was Rabia's turn to score and rub salts into Etoile's wounds in the 63rd minute, letting fly from distance as his shot struck the hands of Mathlouthi and went into the top corner.

Ahly could have secured a bigger victory in the latter stages but wasted several one-on-ones and Etoile scored in stoppage time when Msakni's shot from the edge of the area beat Ekramy at his near post.

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