Ahly's hope for 'different-coloured medal' dashed by loss to Palmeiras

Hatem Maher , Tuesday 8 Feb 2022

Ahly's hope to go one better than last year's third-place finish in the FIFA Club World Cup were dashed after they slumped to a 2-0 loss to South American champions Palmeiras in the semi-final on Tuesday.

Palmeiras players celebrate winning the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup semi-final football match against Egypt s Al-Ahly at al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, on February 8, 2022. AFP

Midfielder Raphael Veiga put Palmeiras ahead six minutes before the break after being set-up by lively winger Dudu as Ahly's resistance was broken following a rare defensive lapse.

Veiga returned the favour to Dudu early in the second half to double Palmeiras' advantage and leave Ahly with a mountain to climb.

The Red Devils threw caution to the wind and poured forward en masse but could only create their first clear-cut chance in stoppage time when substitute Walid Soliman headed against the bar.

They also finished with ten men after defender Ayman Ashraf, back from international duty with Egypt at the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, was sent-off for a reckless challenge on striker Rony in the 80th minute.

Ashraf endured a night to forget, having been at fault for Palmeiras' two goals as the Brazilian giants avenged their shootout loss to Ahly in last year's third-place playoff.

Mosimane's hope

Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane said before the tournament he would aim for a "different-coloured medal" after the team won two bronze in 2006 and 2021.

They kicked off their campaign in superb fashion, making light of the absence of a host of key players to stun Mexico's Monterrey with a 1-0 win on Saturday.

They welcomed back their regulars against Palmeiras but Mosimane only included Ashraf and midfielder Amr El-Sulaya in his starting line-up, with the players having just arrived in Abu Dhabi following an arduous journey from Cameroon to Egypt and then to the UAE.   

Mosimane's game plan was to defend in numbers and then counter-attack with speed and his strategy appeared partially effective as Palmeiras struggled for openings despite dominating possession.

One mistake from Ashraf cost them in the 39th minute though as he needlessly rushed out of his comfort zone to close down Dudu, whose first-time pass exposed the gap the defender had left and released Veiga to drill home into the corner of the net.

Just when Ahly abandoned their cautious approach in an attempt to even things up, they were hit on the break four minutes into the second period.

With Again Ashraf carelessly closing down on Veiga far away from his penalty area, he left acres of space for Plameiras to exploit.

Veiga found the onrushing Dudu with a superb back-heel pass to jink into the area unopposed and rifle an angled shot into the far top corner past poorly-positioned keeper Ali Lotfi.

Ahly thought they had narrowed the gap when substitute Mohamed Sherif slotted in on the rebound on 72 minutes but the referee disallowed the goal after a VAR review showed the striker to be in an offside position.

The Cairo giants had some half-chances but their hopes to salvage a draw were further dented when Ashraf was sent off for a high-foot tackle on Rony.

Ahly will play either European champions Chelsea or Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal in the third-place playoff on Saturday. 

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