Ahly's defender Ali Maaloul (R) clears the ball during the first leg of the CAF Champions League Quarter-final football match between Egypt's Al-Ahly and South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns at al-Ahly Stadium in the capital Cairo on February 29, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
Ali Maaloul scored a double and Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi produced an inspired display as Egypt's Ahly gained a comfortable first-leg advantage at the expense of South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns in the African Champions League quarterfinal on Saturday.
After a turgid first-half ended goalless at Cairo Stadium, Ahly came on with all guns blazing in the second, with Ajayi putting on a man-of-the-match performance to unlock what has been a watertight defence as Sundowns tasted their first defeat in the competition this season.
He fed the overlapping Maaloul for the much-needed opener 11 minutes after the restart before sending another astute pass to substitute Aliou Badji, who was tripped as he shaped to shoot, with the referee pointing to the spot.
Lively Tunisian left-back Maaloul fired the resulting penalty into the roof of the net, sending the passionate home fans into raptures as Ahly went some way towards erasing the painful memories of their 5-0 first-leg drubbing at the hands of Sundowns at the same stage last season.
The Red Devils will now be firm favorites to reach the semis as they chase their first crown since winning the last of their record eight Champions League trophies in 2013.
The second leg will take place in Pretoria next Saturday.
Sundowns defended in numbers in a cagey first half, a strategy which proved efficient as Ahly were restricted to some tame opportunities and half-chances.
The visitors could have even taken a shock lead inside the first minute when Lebohang Maboe ghosted behind the defence to connect with a diagonal right-wing cross, but his weak effort went straight into the hands of keeper Mohamed El-Shennawi.
Ahly dominated possession but found it hard to break a well-drilled backline.
Lone striker Marwan Mohsen had a glancing header that narrowly missed the target though and hit the side netting with a back-heel effort on the stroke of halftime.
Ahly had a strong penalty appeal turned down by the referee before the break when Hlompho Kekana caught Magdi Afsha with a high challenge.
But the hosts made amends in the 57th minute when Maaloul's angled shot went past the despairing hands of keeper Denis Onyango, thanks to a pass on the turn from Ajayi.
Maaloul then emphatically netted from the spot in the 68th minute as Ahly ran out worthy winners.
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