It had been 30 years since Al Ahly lost by three goals in Africa's top club competition, but the Egyptian giants were shown to be far from invincible as they fell in the Nile Valley derby against Sudan's Al Hilal in the CAF Champions League on Sunday. The last time the Cairo club lost by three clear goals in the competition was in Accra in 1977, against Ghana's Hearts of Oak in the quarter-finals of the old-format Champions Cup.
Not since has it rained goals as it did at the Al Hilal stadium in Omdurman, where ecstatic local fans created a spectacular atmosphere as their team went top of the Group B standings and, at the same time, made sure of an unexpected semi-final place. Second half goals from Dario Khan, Hassan Korongo and the Nigerian Ndubuisi Eze ensured a famous win for the home team, who go ahead of Al Ahly on goal difference.
All three goals came with spectacular quality, starting with Khan's forceful header from a corner and followed by Korongo's extraordinary long-range shot that left experienced shot-stopper Essam Al Hadari helpless. The final touch came three minutes from the end as Al Hilal's Nigerian import Ndubuisi Eze weaved his way through two defenders and, with a deft touch off the outside of his boot, steered the ball home past the onrushing keeper.
It was a famous night for Al Hilal, who have had success against Al Ahly in the past but never in as emphatic a manner as they did on Sunday. Ironically, though, it is still the Egyptians who are in poll position to finish top of the group when they play the final round of matches on 2 September. They need only draw with ASEC Abidjan to book a semi-final place, while Al Hilal travel away to Esperance of Tunisia to complete their programme. Although Esperance are effectively out of the running, Al Hilal are not the best of travelers and could still finish second in the standings.
Etoile make sure of top spot
Al Hilal's securing of their berth in the last four makes the only the second side to do so, following after Etoile Sahel of Tunisia a fortnight ago. Etoile went one better on Saturday night by making sure they will also top Group A, moving into an unassailable lead despite a drab 0-0 draw with Morocco's Royal Armed Forces.
Etoile's French coach Bertrand Marchand did not field his strongest side, although he did assert before the game that he would not relax his team's attitude because they wanted to make sure that they finished top of the standings to avoid a semi-final meeting with Al Ahly. Marchand was assuming that the Egyptians will be top of Group B, not counting on the surprise result 24 hours later in Omdurman.
With the Tunisians then in driving seat, the other semi-final
berth in Group A will be settled on 1 September when Al Ittihad of
Libya and JS Kabylie of Algeria play their last games. The pair
squared off at Stade Benhaddad in Kouba on Friday, with JSK coming
from a goal down to win 3-1 in a match which the Libyans needed
only to draw to go through.
It was JSK's first game under new coach Moussa Saib, who said afterwards: "It was a good win but it does not constitute any kind of finality because we still have long and painful work ahead."
Al Ittihad still have a one point advantage over JSK and will play at home in their last group match on 1 September. JSK are away in their last group game but face bottom-paced Royal Armed Forces.