A Mohamed Aboutrika hat-trick earned Al-Ahly of Egypt a 3-1 triumph over Stade Malien of Mali in Cairo Monday and a place in the CAF Champions League group phase.
Winners of the elite Pan-African club competition a record six times, Ahly appeared in trouble behind closed doors when drawing 1-1 with 1965 runners-up Stade nine minutes from time.
But a dramatic finish in the eerie atmosphere of the 70,000-seat Cairo Stadium saw iconic midfielder Abou Treika score twice and Malian Mohamed Koumare red carded between the goals after a second caution.
Ahly advanced to the pool phase 3-2 on aggregate having lost 1-0 in Bamako two weeks ago and then been stranded in the west African nation for four days as rival army factions fought for control of the capital. An Egyptian military aircraft rescued the Ahly footballers, coaches and officials and the return match in the last-16 tie was delayed 48 hours to allow the north Africans more recovery time.
Defending champions Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, TP Mazembe of Demcratic Republic of Congo, ASO Chlef of Algeria, Sunshine Stars of Nigeria, Berekum Chelsea of Ghana and Zamalek of Egypt have also qualified.
Abou Treika, 33, who is idolised by millions of Egyptian football followers, netted twice against Coffee of Ethiopia in the previous round and his five goals put him one behind leading Champions League scorer Ghanaian Emmanuel Clottey.
Domestic football has been cancelled in Egypt since 74 people died in post-match Port Said riots on 1 February and no spectators are permitted to attend CAF fixtures.