Ahly's Walid Soliman celebrates scoring their first goal (Reuters)
Egyptian giants Ahly will be grateful that they were not made to pay for a string of misses as they claimed a 2-0 home win over Algeria's ES Setif to secure a comfortable first-leg advantage in the African Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.
Two first-half goals, a header from the impressive Walid Soliman and a scrappy effort from Islam Mohareb, put Ahly in pole position to reach the Champions League final for the second year running.
However, they could have easily secured a win by a bigger margin had it not been for some astonishing misses in the latter stages.
Setif will have slim hopes to cause an upset and overturn the deficit when they host record eight-time winners Ahly in the second leg on 23 October, having been unable to prove a match to the mighty Cairo side in a largely one-sided affair.
The atmosphere was uncharacteristically subdued as only hundreds of supporters attended the match at Cairo's Al-Salam Stadium after security authorities had decided to only let in registered club members.
The sudden decision came after Ahly fans hurled obscenities at Saudi sports chief Turki Al-Sheikh during the 4-0 win over Guinea's Horoya in the second leg of the quarter-final last month, sparking controversy.
Al-Sheikh stepped down as the honorary president of Ahly last May, citing disagreements with the club over its summer transfer policy. He has since fiercely criticised Ahly's management on several occasions.
Soliman and winger Ahmed Hamoudi unsettled Setif's shaky backline with some neat moves and combinations, taking advantage of their opponents' high backline and catching them out with some deft through balls.
Hamoudi's shot from a tight angle was denied by the post after five minutes and he whipped in a teasing cross for Moroccan striker Walid Azaro to head home on 20 minutes, although the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.
But Ahly were not to be denied from a carbon-copy effort three minutes later, with Hamoudi floating in another inviting cross which was met by a superb glancing header from Soliman, leaving keeper Moustapha Zeghba with no chance.
Setif's tame efforts at the other end barely troubled Ahly keeper Mohamed El-Shennawi and the Red Devils soon re-asserted their dominance, adding a second in the 42nd minute.
A poor defensive clearance fell into the path of Mohareb, who flicked the ball over his challenger and sent a weak shot that struck Zeghba's hands and went in off the post.
Mohareb, right-back Ahmed Fathi and central defender Ayman Ashraf celebrated by making a "shackles" gesture, in an apparent reference to the Ahly fans who were reportedly arrested following the game against Horoya.
Ahly took their foot off the gas pedal in a dour second half, giving Setif the chance to push forward.
The Algerians spurned a golden chance to narrow the gap in the 49th minute when Ahly lost possession in midfield and a forward slipped the ball to the unmarked Akram Djahnit who fired a low shot just wide with only the keeper to beat.
But Ahly were guilty of some glaring misses in the dying minutes, missing the chance to all but seal their qualification for the final.
In the last 10 minutes, Azaro struck the woodwork with a diving header and missed the target with a poor shot with the goal at his mercy after going one-on-one with Zeghba.
He also had a goal wrongfully ruled out for offside in stoppage time but Ahly should still enter the second leg with a comfortable advantage.
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