Holders Zamalek needed an extra-time penalty from Ahmed Zizo to edge a 2-1 comeback victory over lowly FC Masr and reach the Egypt Cup semis on Saturday, six days before their anticipated Champions League final against Ahly.
Just when it looked as though FC Masr, who were relegated to the second division this season, would cause a huge upset after a 85th-minute goal from Abdel-Rahman Gondia gave them the lead, youngster Osama Faisal forced an extra time with a stoppage-time strike.
Faisal had been on the pitch for only a few minutes when he scored, sparing Zamalek's blushes after a timid display as they were devoid of several key players, with coach Jaime Pacheco resting the likes of Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki and central defender Mahmoud Hamdi to have them fresh for the Ahly encounter.
In the 116th minute, Zizo sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot after left-back Abdallah Gomaa was felled, with the referee awarding the penalty after a VAR review to determine whether the contact had occurred inside the area.
The action-packed game, which was otherwise low on quality, was dominated by the VAR technology, with several decisive interventions swinging it either way.
Zamalek played with 10 men from the 62nd minute when central midfielder Emam Ashour received a straight red for a reckless challenge on the shin of an opponent.
Numbers were evened up on 102 minutes when FC Masr's Hosni Zaki also received his marching orders for a last-man foul on Faisal. The referee initially awarded a penalty, only to whistle for a free kick just outside the area after checking the pitchside monitor.
Zamalek, who will face Talae El-Geish in the last four next month, continued their bid for a seventh Egypt Cup triumph in the last eight editions. They also boosted their morale before facing Ahly on Friday in a high-profile Cairo derby for Africa's most lucrative prize.
Earlier in the day, Ahly also reached the Egypt Cup semis with a narrow 2-1 win over second-tier Abu Qir Fertilizers.
Few clear-cut chances
Zamalek had an early goal disallowed after a lengthy VAR review, with the referee adjudging Congolese forward Kabongo Kasongo to be fractionally offside.
But for all their territorial dominance, clear-cut chances were hard to come by as FC Masr were largely comfortable at the back.
Ashour's dismissal two minutes past the hour mark hardly affected Zamalek's drive to push forward, but left them vulnerable at the back as FC Masr pounced to score a shock goal with five minutes remaining,
Left under no pressure in the box, Gondia neatly controlled a long ball before cutting inside and beating keeper Mahmoud Gennesh at his near post with a low shot.
Zamalek had two penalty claims in the dying minutes waved away by the referee but they still managed to force extra time at the death.
Striker Mostafa Mohamed chested down a flicked-on ball in the area, with Faisal stealing in to hold off his challenger and hit a low shot past the poorly-positioned keeper six minutes into stoppage time.
Zizo settled the tie in Zamalek's favour with a penalty four minutes before the end of the second half of extra time, with Pacheco breathing a sigh of relief after some nervy moments.
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