Egypt’s Al Ahly will add one more chapter to their amazing story, but they needed more than their fair share of good fortune to get through today’s FIFA Club World Cup quarterfinal against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
True, Japan’s champions were working with a slight home field advantage, playing in front of a supportive crowd in Toyota. But the J-League holders were also playing on two days’ rest, having beaten Aukland City on Thursday. That along with the sparse crown 270 miles from Hiroshima mitigated any off Sanfrecce’s perceived advantages.
So there were few explanations why, after going up early through Al-Sayed Hamdi, Al Ahly allowed their hosts to dictate the game. Even after Hisato Sato equalized for Sanfrecce near the half-hour mark, almost all of the best chances fell to a Japanese team that was consistently able to roll through balls behind the Egyptians’ defense. Were iy not for some strong play from goakeeper Sherif Ekramy and (when Ekramy faltered) some luck, Al Ahly’s story would have ended on Sunday.
That story began 10 months ago, when tragedy in Port Said led to the deaths of 74 spectators at a league match against Al Masry. The incident nearly led three Al Ahly Egyptian internationals to give up their careers. The domestic season was eventually cancelled, leaving African Champions League as Al Ahly’s only competition.
One of the players that nearly retired was attacker Mohamed Aboutrika. Today, he came off the bench to convert one of the few opportunities Al Ahly generated in the second half, beating substitute goalkeeper Takuya Masuda low for the game-winning goal.
Despite their paucity of chances, Al Ahly move on to face South America champions Corinthians in the next round. If they play like they did today, their story will end in next Sunday’s third place match. However, having overcome the odds to make it this far, Al Ahly may still replicate TP Mazembe’s feat of two years ago and lead Africa past the South Americans.
Here are the highlights: