Zamalek held to 1-1 draw by Saint George in Cairo (photo: Ahmed Shehata)
Egypt's Zamalek are facing the prospect of early African Champions League elimination after they needed a late goal to salvage a 1-1 draw at home to Ethiopia's Saint George in the first leg of the competition's round of 16 on Saturday.
In a match played behind closed doors at Cairo's Air Defence Stadium, Saint George took a surprising lead three minutes past the hour mark when Umed Ukuri pounced on a defensive howler to fire home following a bursting run.
Burkinabe striker Abdoulaye Cisse, who was introduced in the second half, levelled the score with eight minutes remaining but the visitors survived a late onslaught to claim a valuable draw.
Five-time African champions Zamalek, who last won the Champions League in 2002, will need to win away from home or secure a high-scoring draw in a fortnight to reach the group stage and avoid a surprising elimination.
The White Knights had to do without their fans after Egyptian authorities imposed a crowd ban in the wake of recent disturbances in continental and regional games for Zamalek, Ahly and Ismaily.
Zamalek, lacking the spark of winger Mohamed Ibrahim, who started on the bench due to a back complaint, struggled to break down the resolute Saint George in the first half.
They were only restricted to some tame shots, including a left-foot effort from playmaker Ahmed Eid which went over the crossbar and a half-volley from striker Ahmed Gaafar that was blocked by the keeper from a tight angle.
Saint George could have hit Zamalek on the break after 20 minutes when Williams beat the offside trap to go one-on-one with keeper Abdel-Wahed El-Sayed, who superbly blocked his low shot.
Zamalek coach Jorvan Vieira threw Cisse and pacy winger Hazem Emam into the fray in the second half in a bid to beef up his attack but it was Saint George who opened the scoring following a dreadful blunder from Salah Soliman in the 63rd minute.
The defender's short pass in the centre circle was intercepted by Ukuri, who outran Soliman and his sluggish partner Mahmoud Fathallah to send a low shot from the edge of the area that went past the poorly-positioned El-Sayed and into the bottom corner.
Ibrahim injected a much-needed zeal following his introduction to set up Cisse for the equaliser in the 82nd minute.
The in-form winger skipped past his marker on the right to send in a low cross that was converted by the sliding Cisse from close range.
Cisse went close in the latter stages with two headers and two close-range efforts but Saint George held on for a precious draw that leaves Zamalek in a delicate situation ahead of the second leg.
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