Mohamed Aboutrika of Egypt's Ahly celebrates after scoring against Japan's Sanfrecce Hiroshima during their Club World Cup soccer match in Toyota, central Japan December 9, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)
Talismanic playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika scored in the second half as Ahly claimed a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima to qualify for the Club World Cup semi-final on Sunday.
Forward El-Sayed Hamdi put Ahly ahead on the quarter-hour mark but Hisato Sato brought the hosts level on 31 minutes amid snowfall at the Toyota Stadium.
Abou-Treika, who started on the bench, netted a trademark poacher’s goal 11 minutes after the restart and Ahly survived a late Hiroshima onslaught, thanks to a series of impressive saves from keeper Sherif Ekramy, to set up a semi-final clash with Brazil’s Corinthians.
The 34-year-old took his tally to four goals in the tournament’s history, on level with top scorers Lionel Messi and Brazilian striker Denilson.
Ahly, winners of a record seven African Champions League titles, will appear in the semis for the second time, having finished third in the 2006 edition.
Ahly had the upper hand in the early stages, thanks to a series of intricate passes that unsettled Hiroshima’s backline.
They could have opened the scoring after three minutes when forward Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’ ran onto a neat long ball but, under a pressure from a defender, he dragged his shot just wide.
Hiroshima keeper Shusaku Nishikawa sustained a facial injury after colliding with Gedo, making way for Takuya Masuda for an early substitution.
Ahly were also forced to make an unscripted substitution before the break after central midfielder Hossam Ghaly picked up an injury. He was replaced by Abou-Treika.
The Red Devils deservedly went ahead after 15 minutes when right-back Ahmed Fathi exchanged passes with Abdallah El-Saied on the right, ran to the byline and pulled the ball back to Hamdi for an easy tap-in.
Ahly eased off after taking the lead and their static defence was exposed on several occasions as Hiroshima made the most of their pace.
Goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy dived at the feet of the unmarked Hiroki Mizumoto to thwart a clear-cut chance in the 25th minute but he was powerless to prevent Hiroshima from levelling the score six minutes later.
Ahly’s defence poorly cleared a corner, allowing skipper Hisato Sato to latch onto a flick-on at the far post and fire a low shot in off the legs of Ekramy.
Left-sided duo Ahmed Shedid and Walid Soliman were constantly outpaced by Hiroshima’s lively winger Mihael Mikic, who made life difficult for them before the break.
Abou-Treika, known for his decisive goals, came to Ahly’s rescue once again when he restored their lead in the 56th minute.
He held off his challenger to neatly control a long ball from Fathi, who set up both goals, and fire into the bottom corner with aplomb.
Hiroshima piled on pressure in the latter stages but were denied by the in-form Ekramy, who is starting to win over Ahly’s demanding fans after a turbulent and error-ridden period.
Their best chance came with nine minutes remaining when the lively Sato caught two defenders napping to break clear following a through pass but he shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
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