Ali Maaloul, Egypt's Ahly, and Zambia's ZESCO Simon Silwmba in action. (Reuters)
Veteran striker Emad Meteb struck late as Ahly salvaged a 2-2 draw at home to Zambia's ZESCO United on Friday, a result that is unlikely to do them any favours as their African Champions League hopes were dealt a crushing blow.
Meteb's deflected effort with five minutes remaining revived Ahly's hopes of snatching a precious win but ZESCO held firm despite a late onslaught from the record eight-time winners, securing a share of spoils.
ZESCO, who beat Ahly 3-2 in Ndola in June, were close to completing a double over their fancied opponents with a first-half brace from Jesse Were either side of a goal from Ahly defender Rami Rabia.
The Red Devils were looking to recover from a bitter 3-1 loss to Cairo rivals Zamalek in the Egypt Cup final last Monday but the latest setback will increase pressure on Dutch coach Martin, with the club facing an uphill climb to advance to the semis.
Ahly, who won only once and lost twice in five Group A matches, lie third with five points, three behind leaders ZESCO.
Should Morocco's Wydad Casablanca, who have seven points, beat Ivorian side ASEC (four points) on Sunday, Ahly will be officially eliminated from Africa's elite club competition.
Ahly were taken by surprise after six minutes when Jackson Mwanza was given all the time and space on the right to whip in a cross to the far post, where the unmarked Were popped up to head home and beat keeper Ahmed Adel at his near post.
The hosts somewhat regained their composure after falling behind but still struggled for creativity, with newly-arrived Tunisian wing-back Ali Maaloul being their only source of danger.
The 26-year-old sent a curling free kick just wide midway through the first half and several of his inch-perfect crosses went begging as Ahly's lone frontman Amr Gamal once again failed to justify Martin Jol's faith.
ZESCO were still dangerous on the break and Mwanza held off his challenger but fired just over the bar from a tight angle.
Maaloul had a hand in the equaliser on 30 minutes when his corner was flicked on by Hossam Ghaly before Moemen Zakareya's goal-bound shot was cleared by a defender off the line. Rabia made the follow-up to roll the ball into an empty net and send the home fans into raptures.
But Ahly's celebrations were short-lived as their defensive frailties continued to haunt them.
Just five minutes later, a flowing move down the right saw Ching'ndu John feed Were who cut inside central defender Saad Samir, who was the main culprit in the defeat by Zamalek, to delightfully curl a low shot into the bottom corner of the net.
Gamal sent a free header wide following a fine cross from left-back Sabri Rahil and Ahly were in almost total control after the break although the clear-cut chances remained scarce.
Ahly continued to rely on Maaloul's crossing abilities and from one of his corners they almost equalised when ZESCO keeper Banda Jacob mis-timed his jump and Meteb side-footed the ball goalwards, only for Were to clear it off the line.
He made amends when his bicycle effort following a cross from playmaker Abdallah El-Said wrong-footed Jacob but it was too little, too late as ZESCO got a valuable draw from Suez.
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