Al Ahly make fast start
The opening game of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006 lived up to all expectations as CAF champions Al Ahly and their Oceania counterparts Auckland City served up an attractive duel. In the end the Egyptians ran out 2-0 winners to book a semi-final date with CONMEBOL kings, Internacional of Brazil.
The match got off to a fascinating start as both sides settled quickly into their respective rhythms, although it was Al Ahly who produced the more cultured football. Prompted by playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika, the Egyptians dominated possession with short, precise passes, and, with livewire forwards Flavio and Emad Moteab full of running up front, it only seemed a matter of time before the African champions would take the lead. That they failed to do so at this stage was down to a combination of profligate finishing and desperate defending from the Kiwis.
It took the Egyptians just two minutes to create their first opening when Aboutrika fired wide after a fine team move. Moteab looked poised to open the scoring just minutes later only to be dispossessed by Auckland midfielder Paul Seaman in the nick of time. Angolan international Flavio then enjoyed the clearest opportunity of the opening 45 minutes when he ghosted into the box and fired a cross-shot just wide of Ross Nicholson's goal.
Pinned back into their own half for long periods, the New Zealanders attempted to hit back on the counter-attack. Despite bursting out of defence in numbers and bombarding the Egyptian defence with long balls from the flanks, Auckland were unable to make much headway and their only chance of the first half came when skipper Neil Sykes shot wide.
Al Ahly continued to move the ball around after the restart and were rewarded for their patient approach six minutes in when Flavio picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area and lashed a fierce right-footed drive past helpless Ross into the top corner (1-0, 51').
Having finally broken through the stubborn Kiwi rearguard, Manuel Jose's side went in for the kill. Aboutrika almost doubled the lead minutes later when he danced through the Auckland defence only for Ross to make a fine block with his feet. Moteab was next to try his luck but saw his shot from near the penalty spot dribble harmlessly wide.
With the Egyptians continuing to monopolise the game, Auckland coach Allan Jones looked to his bench for answers and brought on Teru Iwamoto and Jason Hayne. The switch made little difference, and it came as no surprise when Aboutrika capped a fine display by stroking a superbly flighted free-kick over over the wall and past the stranded Ross (2-0, 73').
Having virtually guaranteed their semi-final place, Al Ahly dropped down a gear or two, giving the wounded New Zealanders a chance to exert some pressure of their own. Lacking their opponents' trickery around the box, Auckland were forced to try their luck from long distance, and Essam El Hadary in the Al Ahly goal dealt comfortably with everything that came his way. After seeing out time for a relatively straightforward win, the stylish Egyptians are sure to be full of confidence going into what promises to be an intriguing semi-final against Internacional on Wednesday.