Al-Ahly restored some Egyptian football pride Sunday by squeezing into the CAF Champions League final after a penalty shootout. Ahmed Fathy converted what proved the decisive spot-kick as Jacques Haman blazed the next one over the bar.
The Cairo Red Devils won the spot-kick duel with Cameroonian visitors Coton Sport 7-6 in Red Sea resort El-Gouna after a 1-1 draw behind closed doors. A 1-1 first leg draw in Garoua two weeks ago meant a 2-2 aggregate tie as the clubs sought a final showdown with South African side Orlando Pirates.
Needing to score to level the shootout, Jacques Haman blazed over and Ahly kept alive hopes of a record eighth CAF Champions League title. The outcome was a massive relief for Egypt after a national side packed with Ahly stars were decimated 6-1 by Ghana in a FIFA World Cup™ play-off five days ago.
Ahly went ahead inside three minutes with a simple goal as Sayed Moawad crossed and Abdullah Al-Saied towered above two defenders to nod the ball wide of Luc Feudjou. The home side owned the ball in the first quarter of the game with timid Coton repeatedly running around trying to gain possession.
But it took Ahly until midway through the half before they threatened to score again with chances falling to Walid Soliman and Rami Rabiea in quick succession. Unmarked Soliman hurried a shot that finished well off target and a looping Rabiea header off an Ahmed Fathy free-kick landed on top of the net.
Coton finally came alive during the ten minutes before half-time and gave the record seven-time champions several scares. Ewangue Mbongo got past a defender and goalkeeper and captain Sherif Ekramy used his legs to block a close-range shot.
Kingue Mpondo came even closer three minutes later, hitting the post after stretching to connect with a partially cleared cross. After 35 largely idle minutes, Ekramy was suddenly the busiest footballer in El-Gouna and needed two attempts to hold a snap shot from teenager Alexis Kada.
The half-time whistle was a relief to the Ahly, who were lucky to be one goal ahead on the day and on aggregate. Coton continued to press as the second half progressed without creating any clearcut chances on a clear, hot afternoon in north-east Egypt.
But with 65 minutes gone the Cameroonians deservedly levelled when several Ahly defenders failed to cut off a low cross and Kada netted with with a close-range tap in.