Egyptian giants, Al Ahly yesterday at the Borg El Arab Stadium, Alexandria, moved closer to winning the CAF Champions League for the 9th time after defeating a familiar foe, Esperance of Tunisia 3-1.
Walid Soliman scored two penalties for Al-Ahly while Amr Al Sulaya also scored for the home side, but Esperance have a lifeline through a penalty netted by Youcef Beaili as his Algerian compatriot, referee Mehdi Abid Charef, took centre stage.
The visitors were handed the opportunity to halve the deficit when they were awarded a penalty when Ahly goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy raced off his line and crashed into on-rushing Esperance forward Belaili.
Algerian Belaili took the spot-kick himself and drilled the ball low into the bottom corner.
Charef then awarded a third penalty with 15 minutes remaining, again consulting the VAR, after Azaro went down in the box in an off-the-ball incident.
Despite replays suggesting there was little in it, he upheld his decision and Soliman converted.
The second leg will be played next Friday at the Stade Olympique de Rades just outside Tunis as Al-Ahly seek to extend their record of eight Champions League victories.
At stake is not just the trophy but the prize of N900 million ($2.5 million or 2.2 million Euros), apart from the winner qualifying automatically for the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Participating in the Club World Cup by the winner also guarantees at least another N360 million or $1 million.
Both sides met in the final of 2012 edition, with Ahly winning 3-2 on aggregate to claim their seventh title. The two teams are familiar foes on the continent, having met 16 times at various stages of the Champions League, starting with two goalless 1990 qualifiers.
Al Ahly and Esperance count between them 10 Champions League titles, with Ahly the record champions having eight titles, with two for the Tunisians.
Yesterday’s final was Ahly’s 12th appearance in the final, which is an African record.