Egypt's Ahly failed to take a first-leg advantage despite their territorial dominance, throwing away their lead to settle for a 1-1 draw at home to Morocco's Wydad Casablanca in the African Champions League final on Saturday. An early sublime volley from Moemen Zakareya ensured Ahly made a perfect start to the match at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium, similar to the one they had en route to a memorable 6-2 thrashing of Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel in the second leg of the semi final.
However, a glancing header from forward Achraf Bencharki, one of the night's best formers, gave Wydad an equaliser and, more importantly, a precious away goal which could come in handy when both sides meet in the second leg next Saturday in Casablanca. The one-time winners defended in numbers in the second half, thwarting a wave of Ahly attempts to avoid the fate of Etoile, who paid a heavy price for their bold approach.
Ahly, who are eyeing a record-extending ninth triumph, will have to score on the road if they are to win their first title since 2013.
Ahly took the game to Wydad from the very beginning and, just like the home clash against Etoile, opened the scoring as early as the third minute following a spectacular effort from Zakareya. The winger, consistently praised for his lethal finishing, flicked a pass from Abdallah El-Said with his right foot and sent an unstoppable volley with his left from the edge of the area, leaving Wydad keeper Zouheir Laaroubi with no chance.
Walid Azaro, who silenced his critics with a hat-trick in the demolition of Etoile, could have made it 2-0 four minutes later when he burst clear, only to fire high over with the goal at his mercy, prompting murmurs of discontent from the home fans who are still not convinced the Moroccan striker is the man to spearhead Ahly's attack.
Ahly played some flowing football and looked capable of doubling their advantage but they were taken by surprise following a swift Wydad move which resulted in an equaliser in the 17th minute. Mohamed Ounajem, Wydad's lively playmaker, made a darting run down the right and whipped in an inviting cross for Bencharki, who got ahead of central defender Saad Samir to send a glancing header into the corner of the net.
The equaliser looked to have dampened the spirit of Ahly, who struggled to break down the defensive-minded hosts for the remainder of the first half, although Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi wasted a good chance when he miscued a free header following a right-wing cross. But Wydad lost Ounajem, their primary source of creativity, to injury in the 27th minute. He was replaced with Abdeladim Khadrouf.
Ahly laid siege to Wydad's area in the second half, launching a wave of attacks although clear-cut chances were scarce. However, Ahly had a penalty claim waved away when Azaro was caught by a high-foot challenge from Badr Gaddarin on the hour mark. Wydad defended stoutly in the latter stages, restricting Ahly to some half-chances as the Red Devils sent some deep long balls to Azaro and Ajayi, although neither took advantage.
Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry introduced winger Walid Soliman to inject zeal but he was injured with five minutes remaining, making way for veteran striker Emad Meteb. Meteb had the second half's best chance when his low shot from the edge of the area went just wide deep in stoppage time.
Egypt's Ahly held to 1-1 draw by resolute Wydad in final first-leg