Veteran defender Wael Gomaa, a club icon who is in the twilight of his career, made an uncharacteristic blunder as defending champions Ahly of Egypt slumped to a 1-0 defeat by Ahly Benghazi in Tunisia in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16.
The match, which took place at the tiny Chedli Zouiten Stadium in Tunis due to security concerns in Libya, was settled seven minutes past the hour mark when Gomaa miscued a clearance and Zimbabwean 30-year-old striker Edward Sadomba pounced to slot home from close range.
It was a rare defensive mistake from an otherwise solid backline that kept Benghazi at bay for most of the game.
The fading pace of Gomaa, who had already announced he would hang up his boots at the end of the season, has allowed Ahly’s opponents to expose him in recent Egyptian Premier League matches but a deep backline against Benghazi saw the 38-year-old stand firm until the opening goal.
The Red Devils, who are bidding for a hat-trick of Champions League titles after lifting the trophy in 2012 and 2013, will be looking to stage a comeback similar to the one they did against Tanzania’s Young Africans in the previous round when they host Benghazi in Cairo on 29 March.
Ahly, who were also mediocre in recent league games, were compact at the back in a first half that only witnessed several half-chances, with Gomaa and his partner Mohamed Naguib cutting short the hosts’ shy attempts.
Although Ahly’s bold starting lineup included three attacking midfielders and a lone striker in the in-form Amr Gamal, the lack of creativity was once again evident, with wingers Moussa Yedan and Abdallah El-Saied struggling to unlock Benghazi’s defence on a muddy pitch.
Neither keeper was tested in a slow-tempo first half but Benghazi’s Egyptian forward Ahmed Eid came close to opening the scoring with an angled low shot that deflected off a defender and went just wide.
At the other end, El-Said latched onto a superb chipped pass from right-back Ahmed Fathi inside the area but Benghazi keeper Wisam El Boudi rushed out in a timely manner to smother his attempted volley.
Ahly’s two defensive-minded central midfielders, Rami Rabia and Hossam Ashour, gave away possession far too easily in the second half as Benghazi gradually took control.
They sent their fans into raptures in the 67th minute when Abdulrahman Fetori shrugged off his marker Naguib to flick a long ball into the path of Sadomba, who made the most of Gomaa’s error to stab the ball home with a first-timer.
Gomaa could have gifted Benghazi a second goal when he was dispossessed towards the end but Ahly’s defence eventually cleared the danger, maintaining the Cairo giants’ hopes of overturning the deficit in the second leg.
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