Ahmed Hassan hesitated for a second, seemingly soaking up the intense atmosphere, before sprinting onto the pitch for a tumultuous accolade as he made his return to Egyptian club football. It got much better after the generous welcome he received at the warm-up, when the diminutive 33-year-old Egypt captain snatched the winning goal for his new club Al Ahly as they made a positive start to the group phase of their CAF African Champions League campaign on Sunday.
But there were contrasting emotions earlier in the day in Harare, as Edward Sadomba scored twice to ensure victory for Zimbabwe's Dynamos, bursting into tears after both goals and at the end of the game as he dedicated the double to his elder sister, who had died just 48 hours before kick-off. Sadomba decided to play on in her honour, after initial doubts he would make the Group A match against ASEC Abidjan at Harare's Rufaro stadium.
Al Ahly and Dynamos might have contrasting records in Africa's leading club competition, but share the Group A lead after their Sunday wins. In Group B, Cameroon's Coton Sport and Al Hilal were also winners at home in their opening matches of the league phase, both needing dramatic late winners to take the first points in the bid to become continental champions.
Thousands gather for Egypt derby
The Cairo derby between Al Ahly and Zamalek enjoyed the biggest spotlight of the weekend, and some 50,000 fans were not disappointed. Hassan, back home after a successful career at Besiktas of Turkey and Belgium's Anderlecht, provided the cherry on the cake with a trademark pinpoint free kick blasted home from the edge of the penalty area to secure Al Ahly's 2-1 triumph. It came just four minutes after Gamal Hamza's 63rd minute equaliser that threatened to get Zamalek back in the game.
Al Ahly had scored first when the Angolan duo of Gilberto and Flavio combined, with Gilberto stripping Mohamed Abdallah of possession and centring for Flavio to ram the ball home from close range.
"For a first game of the season, it wasn't bad. It was a tough opener for both of us but a lot of positives came from the game," said Al Ahly's all-conquering coach Manuel Jose, who fought hard to persuade Hassan to come to Al Ahly rather than Zamalek, when he announced his wish to return home halfway through his last season in Belgium.
Sadomba's dramatic double proved Dynamos' proficiency at this level of competition after a ten-year absence from the league phase. Dynamos had caused a major upset when they eliminated holders Etoile Sahel of Tunisia in the last knockout round. Sadomba scored after just four minutes and got the last goal in the 2-1 triumph around 15 minutes from the end.
Coton's successful debut
There was a successful debut in the league phase for Cameroon's Coton Sport, thanks to a dramatic injury-time winner from Niger international Kamilou Daouda that ensured victory for the home side over TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Garoua on Saturday. The win means that Coton Sport share top place in Group B with Al Hilal of Sudan, who were 3-2 winners over Enyimba of Nigeria in Khartoum on Friday.
Al Hilal also scored a late winner in the closing stages of the match. In fact, two of their three goals came from Nigerians against their countrymen. First Yusuf Mohamed scored a cracking goal against his former team-mates, going over to apologise to them afterwards, and then Ifeanyi Oniugbo snatched an 89th minute winner. Enyimba deserved better, even by the admission of Al Hilal's Brazilian coach Ricardo Heron: "What a team," he enthused afterwards, "Enyimba really can play well."
The Nigerians looked to have secured a point when Stephen Worgu netted to make it 2-2 in the 86th minute. It was his 10th goal of the campaign. However, it was not to be, as the high drama at the conclusion of the match set the tone for the rest of the weekend.