Johannesburg (AFP) – Ali Maaloul ended a nine-match CAF Champions League goal drought by scoring twice for Al Ahly in a 2-0 quarter-final first leg victory over Mamelodi Sundowns in Cairo Saturday.
The Tunisia left-back broke the deadlock on 56 minutes with a close-range shot and netted again 12 minutes later, this time from a penalty kick.
Success was particularly sweet for the record eight-time African champions from Egypt after a 5-1 aggregate drubbing by the South Africans at the same stage last season.
The five-goal first leg thrashing in Pretoria was the heaviest loss suffered by the Cairo Red Devils since losing 6-0 to bitter domestic rivals Zamalek in the 1942 Egypt FA Cup final.
Ahly return to the Lucas ‘Masterpieces’ Moripe Stadium in Pretoria next Saturday for the second leg and will fancy their chances of sealing a semi-finals spot.
Maaloul, a defender with a fondness for pressing forward in pursuit of goals, scored the first of the Ahly Champions League campaign last August against South Sudanese side Atlabara.
But the 30-year-old did not manage to get on the scoresheet again in three other qualifiers and six group outings.
With 55 minutes gone and Sundowns containing Ahly, he played a one-two with Nigerian Junior Ajayi, then slammed a low shot across Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango into the far corner.
When Sundowns captain Hlompho Kekana tripped Aliou Badji inside the box midway through the second half, Maaloul hammered the spot-kick over Onyango into the net.
– Six barren campaigns –
Ahly are seeking a record-extending ninth title after six barren campaigns since defeating Orlando Pirates of South Africa in the 2013 final.
Since then, they have been runners-up twice, quarter-finalists, eliminated after the group matches, and twice suffered the humiliation of not even reaching the mini-league phase.
Ahly are guided by Rene Weiler, who hopes to become the first Swiss coach to win the elite Confederation of African Football club competition.
Defeat ended a nine-match unbeaten run by Sundowns since losing their first qualifier against AS Otoho in Congo Brazzaville six months ago.
Meanwhile, Wydad Casablanca left-back Mohamed Nahiri matched the feat of Maaloul by scoring both goals in a 2-0 home victory over Etoile Sahel.
The Moroccan defender broke the deadlock against the Tunisian outfit after only 11 minutes and added a second goal nine minutes into the second half.
All the quarter-finals ended in two-goal home victories for the clubs who finished runners-up in the groups.
The results also created the possibility of two Cairo versus Casablanca semi-finals with Ahly, Zamalek, Raja and Wydad holding aggregate advantages.
On Friday, Zamalek overcame defending champions Esperance of Tunisia 3-1 and Raja triumphed 2-0 against TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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