Weiler hails fan impact as Ahly close on Champions League semis

Ahram Online , Saturday 29 Feb 2020

Ahly's Swiss manager Rene Weiler gestures after 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)

Ahly coach Rene Weiler said the backing of the team's passionate fans was decisive as the Red Devils put one foot in the African Champions League semis with a 2-0 win over South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday.

Egyptian clubs are deprived of the support of their fans in domestic competitions due to a long-standing crowd ban, but they get a sense of the importance of that factor in the Champions League.

In continental competitions, up to 30,000 fans are allowed to attend home matches of the likes of Ahly and Zamalek, chanting feverishly and egging on their teams.

The vociferous chants of Ahly's supporters were repeatedly heard throughout the 90 minutes at Cairo Stadium as two second-half goals from Tunisian left-back Ali Maaloul gave them a much-needed win.

"It's always a pleasure to play before fans, who create an enthusiastic atmosphere. They made all the difference tonight," Swiss coach Weiler told the post-match news conference.

After a turgid first-half ended goalless, Ahly came on with all guns blazing in the second, with Nigerian forward Junior 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.

Maaloul fired the resulting penalty into the roof of the net 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.  

"We were the better side for most of the game and we could have added a third goal," Weiler said.

"The timing of our goals does not matter as long as we win, which is the most important thing."

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.

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