Title-holders Al-Ahly sounded a CAF Champions League warning Sunday by defeating rivals Zamalek 4-2 in an Egyptian derby.
The emphatic triumph behind closed doors at sun-drenched Red Sea resort El-Gouna lifted the 'Red Devils' to the top of Group A in the premier African club competition.
Zamalek substitute Ahmed Hassan, whose 184 caps is an international record, completed the scoring eight minutes from time in an unusually high-scoring derby.
Pirates, beaten 1-0 at Leopards Saturday, host Ahly and Leopards visit Zamalek next weekend in an intriguing climax with two semi-finals places at stake.
But while Group A remains in the melting pot and the head-to-head rule could come into play, Group B is done and dusted with Esperance finishing on top and Coton Sport second.
Ahly began a six-round mini-league campaign by drawing against Zamalek, then crumbled 3-0 at home to Pirates after missing a penalty and having a player red carded.
However, the champions rose from the floor to edge 2012 CAF Confederation Cup winners Leopards home and away and the thrashing of Zamalek suggests they will be hard to depose.
A draw at Pirates would secure top place for Ahly and avoid a semi-finals showdown with experienced Esperance, the club they defeated 3-2 overall in the last final.
Midfield magician Aboutrika, 34, scored the pick of the goals nine minutes after half-time to extend a 2-1 half-time lead in the empty 12,000-seat stadium.
Soliman acrobatically back heeled a cross into the path of the 100-cap Egypt star and he rifled the ball past fellow veteran Abdul Wahed El-Sayed.
Zamalek had entered the game full of hope after ending the unbeaten run of Pirates two weeks ago and made the perfect start with Gaber outpacing a defender to score.
But that was as good as it got for the five-time champions and they could have suffered a heavier loss had a curling Abdullah Al-Saied shot not struck the woodwork.
Spectators were barred after a suspended two-match ban on Ahly for crowd trouble was activated following fighting between 'Red Devils' supporters before the Leopards game.
After matching Leopards during the first half on a Dolisie pitch composed mainly of rock-hard clay, Pirates lost the initiative and fell to a Dimitri Bissiki thunderbolt on 72 minutes.
Goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, often the star for the Soweto club in Africa, failed to grasp a cross and when the ball ran loose outside the box, Bissiki made no mistake.
Giant Cameroonian Yannick N'Djeng opened and closed the scoring with Oussama Darragi also on target for two-time champions Esperance.
Portuguese Ruben Gouveia levelled twice early in the second half for Libolo, who have taken just one point from a possible 12 since shocking Esperance in Angola.