Icon Aboutrika to the rescue for Al-Ahly
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Mohamed Aboutrika proved the hero once again for his beloved Al-Ahly in the Egyptian giants’ FIFA Club World Cup quarter-final in Toyota against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Replacing the injured Hossam Ghaly midway through the first-half, the 34-year-old legend, veteran of four world club finals, scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory for the champions of Africa, who now move on to meet Corinthians.

A roller-coaster first half began with Sanfrecce’s first-choice goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa stretchered off with a facial injury, suffered in a collision with bulky Al-Ahly striker Gedo after only four minutes. Eleven minutes later, substitute net-minder Takuya Masuda – who didn’t play a single J.League game this term – was helpless to do anything about the CAF champions’ opening goal.

Ahmed Fathi combined well with Abdalla Said before hitting out on a rampaging run up the right flank and crossing brilliantly through the penalty area, where Elsayed Hamdi elegantly placed the ball inside the far post amid the falling snow.

Al-Ahly were firmly in command. It looked like turning into a long night for the home side, who started poorly, but they eventually found their feet. After 21 minutes, Ryota Moriwaka fired in a shot from just inside the penalty area that Sherif Ekramy was only just able to keep out. Then, minutes later, a free-kick from midfield deflected into the path of Hiroki Mizumoto, who was denied again by the sprawling Egyptian keeper.

Ghaly injury brings goals
When Al-Ahly’s midfield general and captain Hossam Ghaly was forced off with a knee injury, the men from Hiroshima saw their chance. Former Croatian youth international Mihael Mikic rose in the area to head a loose ball down, and Hisato Sato, the Japanese top flight’s leading scorer this year, collected and fired home from a tight angle to level the score. The goal came while Al-Ahly were down to ten men, coach Hossam El Badry hesitating to replace influential former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Ghaly.

Sanfrecce spurned a pair of chances to take the lead in the dying moments of the the opening period, and they came to regret their profligate finishing when Al-Ahly take control on 57 minutes. Egyptian icon Aboutrika, who replaced the felled Ghaly in the first half, shrugged off his defender and slammed home low and inside the far post from the corner of the area. The goal was Aboutrika’s fourth goal at a FIFA Club World Cup, levelling him for all-time top-scorer honours with Lionel Messi and Brazilian Denilson.

Sato missed a glorious chance to draw the Hiroshima side level with ten minutes to go, the normally clinical forward somehow steered his shot wide with only the keeper to beat. And there were no more chances for the home team, as Al-Ahly now move on to the semi-finals where they meet Corinthians of Brazil on 12 December. Brave Sanfrecce, for their part, will battle it out for fifth place against Ulsan Hyndai, who were beaten by Mexico’s Monterrey in the earlier match at the Toyota Stadium.