Six-time winners, Ahly, settled for a goalless draw in Zambia’s ZESCO United match on Saturday to close in on a place in the African Champions League group stage.
The Cairo giants are unlikely to find it difficult to overcome ZESCO when they host them in the second leg in a fortnight as they eye their first continental triumph since 2008.
Chances were few and far between in a dour affair, which was played on a muddy pitch in Ndola city.
Ahly kept the hosts at bay in the first half but barely carved out clear-cut opportunities. Their only chance fell to playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika, whose curling free kick was blocked by ZESCO keeper ten minutes before the break.
The Red Devils dominated possession in the second period and went close to breaking the deadlock when a powerful half-volley from attacking midfielder Mohamed Barakat went just over the bar on 53 minutes.
Ahly survived a couple of scares in the dying minutes as ZESCO mounted pressure to claim a surprise win.
A last-ditch interception by right-back Ahmed Fathi denied the Zambians and Ahly keeper Ahmed Adel was also on alert to save a close-range header in stoppage time.