Egyptian giants Ahly suffered their first-ever defeat in Ethiopia after slumping to a 1-0 loss to Jimma Aba Jifar but still qualified for the African Champions League group stage with a 2-1 aggregate victory on Saturday.
Ahly were reminded of the nightmarish night they had in Tunis last month when Aba Jifar narrowed the aggregate deficit just before halftime, with Didier Lebri firing home on the turn from inside the area.
In last month's Champions League final, Esperance also scored before the interval and went on to win 3-0 and overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit.
But Ahly, despite a sluggish display, held firm in the second half to advance to the group stage as they bid for their first Champions League crown since winning the last of their record eight titles in 2013.
Apart from a 15th-effort that saw Ahly keeper Sherif Ekramy tip over a mis-hit shot, Aba Jifar looked rarely like threatening.
But they made the most of a defensive lapse to go ahead on the stroke of halftime.
A poor headed clearance by Malian defender Salif Coulibaly, who reports suggest will leave Ahly in January, was intercepted and the ball eventually fell to Lebri who turned and hit a low shot into the bottom corner.
The second half was more exciting, with Ahly looking to score and kill off Aba Jifar's hopes and the hosts launching repeated long balls which caused mayhem in the Red Devils' area.
The introduction of Moroccan striker Walid Azaro gave Ahly a much-needed pace upfront but he was guilty of spurning two gilt-edged chances, including one in the stoppage time when he astonishingly missed an open net.
Ahly survived a late onslaught but their defensive frailties will be a cause of concern for new coach Martin Lasarte, who is set to officially take over early next month.
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