Egypt’s Zamalek remained on top of their African Champions League group after late drama, with forgotten striker Emmanuel Mayuka scoring in stoppage time to salvage a 1-1 draw at home to USM Alger in a thrilling clash on Friday.
The 5,000 supporters who were allowed to attend the match at Alexandria’s Borg El-Arab Stadium went into raptures four minutes into the added time when Mayuka capitalized on a dreadful blunder by USM keeper Mohamed Zemmamouche to slot into an empty net and break the hearts of the brave Algerians.
The Zambian striker, mocked by many fans for being over-weight amid reports he would be offloaded in the summer, was thrown in the fray in the second half as Portuguese coach Augusto Inacio desperately tried to break down a dogged defence.
USM’s breakaways could have well killed off the match before then and they were also harshly denied what looked a clear penalty and a valid goal.
They stunned the home crowd on the half-hour mark when Farouk Chafai made the most of some slack marking to side-foot home a free kick.
After Zamalek equalized, lone striker Bassem Morsi seemed to have snatched a precious winner in an exciting finale but his effort was correctly ruled out for offside.
The White Knights, who reached the final last season but lost to South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns 3-1 on aggregate, are still on top of Group B with five points from a win and two draws, one ahead of USM and Ahli Tripoli, who defeated Zimbabwe’s Caps United (three points) 4-2 earlier in the day.
Zamalek missed midfield linchpin Tarek Hamed through injury and Salah Riko hardly filled the gap, struggling to carry out his defensive and attacking duties.
However, some neat combinations in the first half an hour unsettled USM Alger’s backline and could have resulted in an opener had it not been for some poor finishing touches.
Striker Morsi broke clear following a deft through pass from playmaker Mohamed Ibrahim midway through the first half but applied too much power and his shot rattled the bar when a delicate chip would have been enough to beat the advancing keeper.
Central midfielder Maarouf Yussuf, who has recently earned his first call-up to Nigeria’s squad, shot wide from the edge of the area after a flowing three-man move and winger Ahmed Refaat had another effort blocked by keeper Zemmamouche following a cut-back.
The hosts were duly punished on 30 minutes when Chafai popped up at the far post, held off right-back Hosni Fathi and side-footed a floated free kick in off the post.
Zamalek found it hard to penetrate USM’s massed ranks in the second half and the visitors could have added a second on two occasions but Kaddour Beldjilali and Oussama Darfalou somehow missed the target with two close-range free headers with the goal at their mercy.
USM also had a valid penalty claim waved away by the referee when Zamalek’s sliding defender Ali Gabr handled the ball inside the area and a goal controversially disallowed from Darfalou following a corner which the referee adjudged to have gone out of play.
Morsi and substitute Mostafa Fathi missed a sitter as Zamalek pressed hard in the dying minutes but they needed a gift from Zemmamouche, who fumbled at a tame long ball and Mayuka pounced to find an empty net and secure a share of spoils in an end-to-end affair.
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