VIDEO: Ahly eliminated from Champions League

Hatem Maher, Friday 16 Sep 2011

Ahly wave goodbye to the CAF Champions League after a 1-1 draw at home to Tunisia’s Esperance at Cairo Stadium on Friday

Ahly were held to a 1-1 home draw by Esperance. (Photo: Amr Gamal)

Six-time African champions Ahly were eliminated from the CAF Champions League on Friday after being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Tunisia’s Esperance at Cairo Stadium.

The draw was not enough to lift the Cairo giants to the semifinal although Wydad Casablanca slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Mouloudia Alger in the other Group B match.

Ahly and Wydad finished level on seven points but the latter went through due to their superior goal difference after the head-to-head record failed to separate them.

Esperance booked a last-four berth for the second successive season after finishing on top of the group with 10 points. The Tunisians also eliminated Ahly last season after beating them on the away-goal rule following a 2-2 aggregate draw in the semi final.

The visitors stunned the home crowd when they took a 17th-minute lead, albeit in controversial fashion, after Cameroonian defender Yaya Banana headed home a free kick. Television replays showed that he was in an offside position when the free kick was played.

Ahly, who were disappointing in the first half but came on with all guns blazing after the interval, leveled the score 10 minutes into the second period, thanks to a close-range header from classy playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika.

They piled on pressure in the latter stages but failed to notch the decisive strike which would have lifted them to the semis. Ahly, the record holders of the Champions League, last won Africa’s premier club competition in 2008.

Resolute defense

Ahly struggled to break down a resolute Esperance defense which kept the hosts’ forwards at bay throughout the first half.

Abou-Treika, who impressed in the 1-1 draw at Wydad, was unable to feed isolated striking duo Emad Meteb and Mohamed Nagy “Gedo’ as Ahly were forced to resort to useless long balls which were easily dealt with by Esperance defenders.

Esperance were dangerous on the counter attack, thanks to the physical prowess of combative frontmen Yannick N'Djeng of Cameroon and Khaled Mouelhi.

They silenced the enthusiastic home crowd on 17 minutes when Banana out-jumped his marker Mohamed Naguib to send a superbly executed header into the far corner of the net.

Ahly coach Manuel Jose made an early substitution to inject zeal into a largely sluggish side, introducing playmaker Walid Soliman instead of Naguib.

Soliman, who joined Ahly from ENPPI in the close season, wreaked havoc in Esperance’s defense in the second half, thanks to his precise passes which helped the team carve out spaces.

He set up Abou-Treika for the equalizer when his curling free kick at the near post found the unmarked playmaker, who capitalized on some slack defending and poor positioning from Esperance keeper Moez Ben Cherifia to head home.

Abou-Treika could have put Ahly ahead just one minute later when he latched onto another defense-splitting pass from Soliman but his mis-hit shot went wide.

Ahly laid siege to Esperance’s area in the latter stages after Jose introduced two additional strikers in Mauritania’s Dominique Da Silva and Mohamed Fadl.

They wasted two golden opportunities in quick succession in stoppage time when a Fadl header was cleared off the line before another header from Dominique missed the target from close range.

Ahly received a standing ovation from Ultras Ahlawy, a group of hardcore supporters who came in for fierce criticism lately after clashing with police during a low-key Egyptian Cup game, following the final whistle despite their team’s failure to reach the semis.

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