2 November 2013
A dramatic last-gasp goal earned Orlando Pirates a 1-1 draw with defending champions Al Ahly in the first leg of the Caf Champions League final at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Saturday night.
Electricity filled the air, with a sold-out, colourful crowd packing the Orlando Stadium as Pirates, the only South African club to have won African club football’s most important trophy, faced a team that has won the competition seven times, a side named Africa’s best of the twentieth century by Caf, and they were well rewarded with a fast-paced clash, which was dominated by Pirates, but well managed by the experienced Egyptian side.
The South Africans forced the pace and managed to find a lot of space down the flanks, but their crossing was not up to scratch, while many of their attacking forays ended in hopeful shots from distance, thanks to the well-marshalled Al Ahly defence, which was well led by captain Wael Gomaa.
Al Ahly showed their experience and the composure that comes with having been in a similar situation before. They were, for the most part, very solid on defence, while they asked some questions of Pirates on occasion with their counter-attacks.
From the start, the visitors went in search of an away goal and after some back and forth play between the two teams they found an early reward when Mohamed Aboutrika struck with a goal in the 14th minute.
Challenged by the Al Ahly forwards, Pirates’ skipper Jele put Ayanda Gcaba under pressure with a weak pass and Gcaba then conceded a free kick in a dangerous position, about 10 metres outside the box, in line with goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa’s left hand post.
Aboutrika stepped up and struck a superb right footed shot over the wall and into the top left-hand corner to give the visitors a precious away goal and the lead. Recognising the importance of the goal, coach Mohammed Youssef fell to his knees and kissed the turf.
Pirates were almost level two minutes later when Sayed Moawad untidily scrambled a cross from Daine Klate behind, only just missing netting an own goal in the process. Lennox Bacela then tried his luck from range, but his left-footed blast flew straight into the hands of Ekramy.
Still the Sea Robbers pushed hard for an equaliser, working hard to get the ball forward as quickly as possible. Pressing hard and forcing plenty of corners, they took control of the midfield. Questions were being asked of the Al Ahly defenders. Pirates’ corners, however, looked fairly innocuous.
Waleed Soliman sounded a warning with a left-footed shot just wide of the Buccaneers’ right hand post, but the home team quickly combined to turn the pressure onto the visitors once more.
Oupa Manyisa let rip from distance, but his shot was always rising and passed harmlessly high over Ekramy’s goal. Rooi Mahamutsa was not far off with a shot from range, with his effort flying just past Ekramy’s left-hand post and Sifiso Miyena was narrowly wide with another long range blast.
Forced to play deeper defence
With Pirates pressing, Al Ahly started to play deeper on defence, with their forwards working further back into their own half. After the early goal, the crowd had again found its voice, with vuvuzelas urging the team in black onwards as half-time approached.
Bacela claim close to getting onto the end of a cross from the right, but the ball was just too high and dealt with by the goalie. When the Egyptians didn’t clear with authority, Manyisa fired off a snap shot, but failed to find the target.
Ahmed Abdelzaher then forced a save out of Meyiwa on the counter-attack with the last shot on target of the opening stanza.
Long range shots
Thabo Matlaba got off the first shot of the second half, but as with so many of Pirates’ shots in the game, it was from long range, well outside the box.
Aboutrika was then given far too much space by the Buccaneers’ defenders as he made a run from midfield towards the box. He picked out Abdelzaher inside the box and the striker slid a low shot into the Pirates’ net, but the linesman ruled him offside. The linesman was wrong, but the gap between the teams remained at a single goal.
Pirates again began to exert pressure and Al Ahly captain Wael Gomaa pulled off a last-gasp block on a shot from close range by Bacela.
Rasping, low drive
Next, Tlou Segolela went down under a late challenge on the right, but the referee allowed a good advantage and Andile Jali’s rasping, low drive forced Ekramy to deflect the ball behind at full stretch to his right.
Al Ahly’s niggly marking and holding in the penalty area was getting to the Sea Robbers and the referee was called on to defuse the players’ emotions on more than one occasion.
With just over an hour gone, Dominique Da Silva came on for Abdelzaher, who had run himself ragged up front for the visitors. It remained, though, mostly a backs-to- the-wall defensive effort for the Egyptians.
Neat sequence of passes
Al Ahly, though, strung together a neat sequence of passes to create a chance for Waleed Soliman, but he took a little too long to get his shot off and a defender managed to deflect it behind for a corner.
With 15 minutes to go, Sifiso Myeni made way for Mpho Makola as Pirates searched for a way through the visitors’ resolute defence.
In the 78th minute, Al Ahly, through Da Silva, forced a free kick on the edge of the Buccaneers’ box when Jele pulled the striker to the ground and earned himself a yellow card. Aboutrika tried his luck again, but his shot struck a defender and flew behind for a corner.
On the offensive
Collins Mbesuma was sent into the fray at the expense of Bacela, who had failed to make an impression on the Al Ahly defenders, but as Pirates pressed to score so the Egyptian club started to create more opportunities on the counter-attack. Nonetheless, the Soweto club remained on the offensive.
Four minutes of additional time was signaled and still Pirates pushed hard for a goal, their fans pensively taking in the action.
Only a minute remained on the clock when Thabo Matlaba found an equaliser to the delight of the crowd. He beat Ekramy with a left-footed shot from the left of the box, which passed the goalie’s outstretched left-hand and hit the side-netting to seal a draw for the Sea Robbers right at the death.
The goal changed the mood of the players and the crowd and may prove to be hugely important when the teams meet again in a week’s time in Cairo. Pirates beat Al Ahly 3-0 there in the group stages. Although the win came during Ramadan when the Egyptian players were fasting and in front of an empty stadium, that result will serve as encouragement to the South African side that victory and the title is still within their reach.