Junior Ajayi celebrates the winner against Etoile Sahel (Reuters)
A first-half goal from Junior Ajayi gave Ahly a vital 1-0 home win over Tunisia's Etoile Sahel that lifted them to the summit of their African Champions League group and boosted their hopes to reach the last eight on Sunday.
The Nigerian fired home on the rebound after a defender had cleared a goal-bound shot just past the half-hour mark, giving Ahly a much needed victory in a cagey encounter in Cairo.
Ahly are on top of Group B with 10 points, one ahead of Etoile and Sudanese giants Al-Hilal with one match remaining in the group phase.
The Red Devils only need to draw at Al-Hilal's Omdurman fortress in their final match next week to qualify for the quarter-finals. A win will see them advance as the group leaders regardless of the outcome of the other match between Etoile and Zimbabwe's Platinum.
Ahly looked disjointed in the opening half-hour, with a physical Etoile side giving them little space to operate and trying to hit them on the counter.
Striker Karim Aribi wasted two chances to give Etoile a surprise lead early one, forcing a fine one-handed save from Mohamed El-Shennawi with a shot from the edge of the area before having another effort thwarted by the keeper after racing past his challenger in the area.
It was not until the 30th minute that Ahly threatened the visitors, with keeper Achraf Krir keeping out an angled shot from Hussein El-Shahat with his finger tips.
The breakthrough came two minutes later when a low cross from Tunisian left-back Ali Maaloul found El-Shahat at the far post. The winger's shot was cleared off the line by Zied Boughattas and Ajayi made no mistake with a bouncing shot.
The second half was a bore affair, with both sides unable to muster any meaningful opportunities. The only half-chance fell to Ahly striker Marwan Mohsen, who cut inside and missed the target with a left-foot shot.
Mohsen, who was an otherwise peripheral figure, was replaced in stoppage time, making way for Senegalese striker Aliou Badji, who made his debut.
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