CAF champions Ahly fight back to hold Zamalek
© AFP

Title-holders Al-Ahly fought back to draw 1-1 with arch-rivals Zamalek in an all-Egyptian CAF Champions League in the first matchday of the competition.

The result took the Cairo clubs to the top two places in Group A on goals scored after Orlando Pirates of South Africa and AC Leopards of Congo drew 0-0 in Soweto last weekend.

Zamalek, chasing a first win over their 102-year rivals since 2007, started brightly and were ahead after just eight minutes when Ahmed Gaafar netted from close range.

But Ahly gradually took control when 35-year-old playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika levelled from an early second-half penalty kick.

A pre-match surprise was the presence of supporters from both clubs after authorities and CAF organisers demanded the fixture be staged behind closed doors for security reasons..

Watersports centre El Gouna lies 450 kilometres from Cairo and was selected because officials believed its remoteness would lessen chances of trouble.

The atmosphere was carnival rather than tense with some fans using red and blue umbrellas to shield the mid-afternoon sun, and hundreds of balloons added to the colourful occasion.

Zamalek went ahead when Ahly goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy fumbled an angled free kick and after he blocked two goalmouth attempts, Gaafar fired home.

The football was typically cagey as Ahly gradually established a territorial edge, but the record seven-time African champions took 27 minutes before threatening to score.

Close passing created a chance for Aboutrika and when goalkeeper Abdel Wahed El Sayed failed to hold his stinging shot, the ball was scrambled clear.

Aboutrika, back in the all-red Ahly strip after a short loan spell with United Arab Emirates (UAE) Pro-League club Baniyas, lifted a close, curved free kick over Zamalek's wall soon after, but it landed off target.

As pressure mounted on the Zamalek defence, striker Ahmed Abdel Zaher failed to connect with a low Ahmed Fathy cross and the Algerian referee ignored claims for an Ahly penalty.

But the Red Devils did not need to appeal seven minutes after half-time as Abdel Zaher was sandwiched by two defenders and Aboutrika placed the spot kick into the corner of the net.

Zamalek reacted by introducing star playmaker Mahmoud 'Shikabala' Abdel Razak, who returned to the White Knights eight months after being released by UAE club Al Wasl.

Ekramy almost blundered again by reacting very slowly to a ball drifting into his box, but Gaafar could not take advantage and the ball was hastily booted out of the danger zone.

As time ticked away the teams became increasingly cautious, and the threat from a stoppage-time Zamalek free-kick failed to materialise as it was overhit and trickled wide.