Mohamed Magdi Afsha's early opener and Ali Maaloul's expertly taken second half penalty handed Al Ahly a 2-0 victory over Wydad Athletic Club at the Complexe Mohamed V in Casablanca on Saturday as the Egyptians put one foot into the final of the Total CAF Champions League.
In the first continental club action since the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shutdown to sports six months ago, Wydad saw their 26-match Champions League unbeaten home record shattered.
Coincidentally, it was Ahly who were the last team to beat Wydad at their home turf, all the way back in July 2016.
With the victory, Pitso Mosimane continued in his unbeaten start since being appointed Ahly coach last month. The Red Devils will only need to avoid defeat in the second leg in Cairo to progress to the final for the 13th time in their history.
Ahly went to the break with a 1-0 lead, thanks to goalkeeper Mohamed Elshenawy's penalty save two minutes to the break.
The custodian had brought down Ivorian forward Gbagbo Laurent as he raced to a through pass from Ismail El Haddad. Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe pointed straight to the spot and even when he had to consult the pitch-side Video Assistant Referee (VAR) monitor, he didn't change his mind.
Aouk stepped up to take the penalty but he hit a tame effort that was saved by Elshanawy who also bounced back up to collect the rebound from El Haddad.
Wydad tried to bounce back after going down early and prior to the penalty, El Haddad had two chances which both went begging. First, his volley after a freekick was dumped behind the defense was tame and in the second instant, he rocketed the ball over after being sent through on the left.
Gbagbo also had an effort saved when he weaved his way past two markers but his left footed shot from the edge of the box easily rolled into Elshenawy's gloves.
Afsha early opener
Ahly had the early chances and went ahead just three minutes in when Afsha pinched the ball off a Wydad defender before running through on goal and planting his shot into the bottom left.
Marwan Mohsen also had a chance for the visitors when he picked up an Aliou Deng pass in midfield, but his shot from range flew inches over the bar.
Ahly were stronger after the restart and should have gone ahead in the 57th minute but Husein Ali Elshahat saw a golden opportunity go begging. He was sent through one on one with keeper Ahmed Reda, but shot the ball straight at him.
However, his blushes were wiped three minutes later when Maaloul sent the keeper the wrong way from the penalty spit after Yahya Jabrane handled Junior Ajayi's goal-bound effort.
The visitors guarded their rear with utmost jealousy while Wydad could not get at least one goal to keep their hopes alive ahead of the return leg next Friday.
Miguel Gamondi (Coach, Wydad)
I feel disappointed because it's a tough result at home. The early goal complicated the game and missing the penalty was even more heartbreaking. We felt exhausted after playing a huge number of games in the domestic league. We did not lose hope yet and will try to overturn the table in Cairo.
Pitso Mosimane (Coach, Al ahly)
It was a tough game against a strong opponent who played fiercely after receiving an early goal. I thank our goalkeeper El Shenawy for his penalty save, and all the players for playing to our plan. I'm happy with the result, but I would have been much happier had we scored more goals. We won nothing yet and have to focus on the return leg till we achieve our target and reach the final.