Mohamed Aboutrika was the hero of a magical night for Egypt's Al Ahly at the International Stadium in Yokohama, as the reigning African champions clinched a 2-1 win over Mexico's Club America and with it an impressive third place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006.
The portents for an exciting evening's action were promising with both sides remaining faithful to their forward-thinking philosophies by fielding a clutch of attacking midfielders and a deep-lying striker supporting two out-and-out front men. Coach Fernando Tena gave the expectant America fans just what they wanted by handing the dynamic Juan Mosqueda a start, although the 21-year-old would struggle to make his mark in the opening stages. Up front Nelson Cuevas was entrusted with an unfamiliar role out on the left wing, leaving Matias Vuoso and Salvador Cabanas to team up down the middle.
Tena's opposite number Manuel Jose stuck to his principles by giving key man Mohamed Aboutrika a free role in front of the midfield, linking up with the incombustible Islam El Shater out wide and the mobile, resourceful strike duo of Flavio and Emad Moteab.
Despite the attacking firepower on show, the opening exchanges proved disappointingly short on excitement. Keepers Guillermo Ochoa and Amir Abdelhamid were virtual spectators as the two sides engaged in some gentle shadow boxing. Duilio Davino's fine last-ditch tackle to deny Moteab momentarily raised the excitement levels momentarily before America finally began to exert some pressure with a hesitant Vuoso spurning a good opening.
Starved of the ball, Aboutrika dropped back to link up with his midfield and the impact was almost immediate. Flavio served warning of what was about to come by warming Ochoa's hands with a couple of firm drives from distance before earning a dangerous free-kick in Aboutrika territory. The gifted midfielder did not disappoint, delightfully curling the ball home to give the Africans the lead.
Mexicans draw level
The goal forced Tena to rethink his tactics at half-time and on came Cuauhtemoc Blanco to give the isolated Mosqueda some much-needed support. The switch seemed to galvanise the Mexicans. Cuevas, who had been more preoccupied with covering the threat posed by El Shater down the flank, suddenly began to exert his influence on proceedings and almost fashioned an equaliser ten minutes in only for Abdelhamid to pull off a fine save to his right.
Without ever totally dominating, the CONCACAF champions looked the side more likely to score and the equaliser duly came when Blanco worked his magic on the right and crossed for Cabanas to level things up with a textbook header in off the post.
The goal seemed to rouse Al Ahly from their slumber and with America intent on a second, the game finally sparked into life. Warming to his task, the veteran Blanco began to link up with Claudio Lopez and the two big names almost combined to give their side lead with 20 minutes left, El Piojo just failing to get on the end of the number 10's inviting ball across the face of the goal.
That was about as good as got for the Mexicans, however, as that man Aboutrika showed yet again why he is on the shortlist for the African player of the year. After surging out of midfield and finding Flavio with a pinpoint pass, the mercurial playmaker latched on to the Angolan's return ball and calmly slotted the ball past Ochoa for his third goal of the tournament.
There was no way back for America. In desperation the Mexicans began pumping a succession of long balls into the African box but all to no avail. At the other end, Flavio almost added a third for Al Ahly but saw his delicious chip sail just over the bar. No matter. Manuel Jose's men held on comfortably in the dying seconds, and the broad smiles on his players' faces as they proudly sported their bronze medals told the story. Al Ahly had gone one better than they did in 2005 and third place was all theirs.