Defending champions Al Ahly sent out a strong message after a 2-0 win in the first leg against Mamelodi Sundowns in the 2020-21 CAF Champions League quarterfinals, held at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Saturday night.
It was always going to be a hard-fought game between the team currently managed by Pitso Mosimane and the one he built into the dominant force in South African football. The match was decided by a brilliant first-half strike from the Red Devils’ Taher Mohamed and a fortunate second goal from substitute Salah Mohsen right at the end of the game.
This was a strong way for Mosimane to silence all the doubters who think he is not the right man for the job.
Al Ahly started the game well, pressing high up the pitch to try and force the Sundowns into mistakes. However, the South African champions soon found their flow and created two fine chances around the 20-minute mark but failed to capitalise on them.
The first saw Gift Motupa hit the post with a glancing header from an Aubrey Modiba in-swinging free-kick cross, while a corner kick shortly after allowed Motupa to again get on the end of the ball but he only managed to draft his effort wide of goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy’s left post.
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The Sundowns were immediately made to pay for their failure in taking the lead, as Ahly scored in the 23rd minute through an outstanding solo goal from Taher Mohamed. The attacker picked up a long pass out on the left flank before cutting inside and working space for a bullet of a shot from just outside the box, which rocketed past Uganda goalkeeper Denis Onyango for 1-0.
The ‘Brazilians’ did not let their heads drop and strived to find a way back into the game with a patient buildup but failed to create anything dangerous with the absence of playmaker Themba Zwane certainly hampering their ability to unlock their opponent’s defence from open play.
The start of the second half saw Ahly make a change in defence, as Yasser El Hanafi replaced Rami Rabia, who was cautioned early on in the game with a yellow card and could easily have been sent off in the first half itself.
Just before the hour mark, Sundowns looked dangerous from a Modiba corner kick that picked out Mosa Lebusa’s run at the near post. His glancing effort was on target but well saved by El Shenawy to keep the hosts up.
Kermit Erasmus made a difference after coming on midway through the second half for the South African champions but they failed to beat a stubborn Ahly keeper and defence. Motupa forced El Shanawy into making another terrific save after 71 minutes with a curling long-range effort that looked destined for the back of the net.
Ahly weathered the storm and finally secured an important second goal as substitute Salah Mohsen took advantage of a misjudgement from Onyango, who had come way off his line to try and claim a hopeful clearance forward from Junior Ajayi.
The return game will be played at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Tshwane on Saturday, 22nd May. The aggregate winners will advance to the semifinals and face either CR Belouizdad or Esperance de Tunis.
Belouizdad won their home game 2-0 and have to simply avoid defeat like Al Ahly, to qualify for the final 4 of the competition.