For the coaches, the battle for Arab supremacy and a spot against Sao Paulo in the final four of the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005 had a decisive turning point. Al Ahly burst out of the blocks in the opening period but failed to convert their 61% ball possession into meaningful statistics on the scoreboard.

And whatever Romanian boss Anghel Iordanescu said at half-time it worked a treat as Al Ittihad appeared a much more aggressive side after the break, creating a series of chances as the game became stretched and finally, agonisingly for the Egyptians, striking the fatal blow through captain Mohamed Noor with 12 minutes to play.

Iordanescu was all respectful smiles as he spoke to reporters. "Congratulations to my players," he kicked off. "To be fair, we didn't play well in the first 45 minutes. I think we were a bit scared of our opponents and maybe gave them too much respect.

"In the second period we tried to build up our game with possession and we created more problems for our opponents. I think we deserved to win in the second half but if they scored in the first half, which they deserved to do, then the score could well have been different.

"We saw three tapes of Ahly and I went to the final of the African Champions League in Cairo and you cannot compare the teams," he added responding to a question. "It's a different competition, extra stress and a different crowd.  You also cannot compare Ittihad to the team that played in the final of the Asian Champions League. But that's football; you have to play under any circumstances."

The Romanian beamed at the prospect of a semi-final clash against Sao Paulo on Wednesday: "We are down five players and we don't have too many options to change if players are tired or injured but hopefully this victory will give us confidence."

Long balls and no wings
"Congratulations to Ittihad," began a magnanimous Al Ahly coach Manuel Jose in the post-match press conference. "Both sides had opportunities to score but they got the goal at the right moment. We had several chances in the first half but after 35 minutes we just didn't play well; we couldn't play our normal style.

"In the second half they pressed much more and we became nervous and failed to move the ball around. Instead we hit long balls which was easy for their tall defenders and midfielders. We lacked aggression and creativity."

One of the main features of Ahly's 55-match unbeaten run has been their devastating use of the wings and the Motab-Barakat-Aboutrika connection. But on a bitterly cold night in Tokyo the trio were frozen out by a determined Ittihad defence.

"Our right and left sides didn't work today. It is what we are known for but they just didn't work," Jose continued. "In the midfield we lost control of the match. I tried to balance the side with a substitution and put Barakat on the right but it didn't happen.

"One day we had to lose. It was the wrong moment but that's life and we have to accept defeat. They deserved to win on their second half performance. Now we have to win the next match and we'll look to see who we'll face. As far as I know, we haven't lost two matches together in the past two years so I hope we can win."