Defending champions Ahly came within a whisker of securing their first African Champions League win in South Africa but eventually settled for a 1-1 away to Orlando Pirates in the first leg of the competition's final on Saturday.
Veteran playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika put Ahly in front just before the quarter-hour mark with a brilliant free-kick and Ahly looked to be cruising to a precious win in Johannesburg as they restricted the hosts to some tame efforts throughout the match.
However, Thabo Matlaba notched home deep in stoppage time after a fine individual effort to keep the Pirates' in contention for their second Champions League triumph, having won their solitary title in 1995.
Ahly are still favourites to retain the crown and extend their record to eight titles though. They will host the Pirates in the second leg on 10 November in Cairo.
The Red Devils have never won a Champions League game on South African soil, drawing four times and losing twice in six games.
The four stalemates included a valuable one when Ahly held Mamelodi Sundowns to a 1-1 draw in Pretoria in the 2001 final before crushing them 3-0 in Cairo to win the competition and end a 14-year drought.
They are in a similar position this year.
Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef played with a cautious formation that featured two defensive midfielders in Hossam Ashour and natural right-back Ahmed Fathi in a bid to contain the Pirates' pacy forwards.
The strategy paid off, with the Pirates hardly creating any chances in a first half which saw the hosts dominate possession.
Ahly's full-backs Sayed Moawad and Sherif Abdel-Fadil produced a resolute defensive display, preventing the Pirates' forwards from making any darting runs down the flanks while winger Walid Soliman repeatedly drifted to the back to help his teammates in closing down spaces.
Ahly took the lead on 14 minutes in superb fashion, with Abou-Treika curling an unstoppable right-foot free-kick which went into the top corner of the net past the despairing dive of keeper Senzo Meyiwa.
The Pirates could only muster some wayward shots after falling behind, with Ahly launching some dangerous counter attacks at the other end. One of the neatly-worked breakaways saw lone striker Ahmed Abdel-Zaher denied by Meyiwa from a tight angle on the stroke of halftime.
In the second half, Ahly continued from where they left off before the break and were harshly denied a second goal when Abdel-Zaher was adjudged offside when he drilled home on the turn on 51 minutes.
Television replays showed that he was onside when he latched onto a deft pass from the evergreen Abou-Treika, who said he would retire following the Club World Cup in December if Ahly won the Champions League.
In a rare chance for the Pirates, Ahly keeper Sherif Ekrami produced a superb, one-handed save to block a powerful shot from Andile Jali but his slow reaction allowed the hosts to send the home fans into ecstasy in the 93rd minute.
Matlaba skipped past Fathi and let fly from 25 metres, with his shot finding the bottom corner of the net to leave the Pirates with everything to play for in the second leg.
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