Al Ahly are a step closer to a record ninth title following a 3-1 win over Esperance de Tunis in the first-leg of the 2018 Caf Champions League final at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria on Friday evening.
Walid Soliman scored a brace and teed up Amr El Sulya for the Red Devils’ goals, while Youcef Belaili netted what could prove to be a vital away goal for the Tunisians.
For all the desire and physicality on show in the early exchanges, neither side was able to to threaten the respective goalkeepers, with the first chance of the match finally falling to the hosts in the 20th minute of the clash.
Moez Ben Cherifia had to be on his toes to keep out Soliman’s free-kick from an acute angle and held his ground to punch clear of danger under immense pressure.
The opening goal of the tie duly followed in the 34th minute following a foul on Walid Azaro by Cherifia.
The referee consulted VAR – in use for the first time in a Champions League final – following protests from the visitors, but having had quite a few looks and despite seemingly doubting himself, the match official stuck by his original decision.
Soliman duly stepped up and fired an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top corner of the net.
Esperance almost levelled matters on the cusp of half-time, but Ghaylene Chaalali was unlucky to see his long range effort canon off the crossbar and out of danger, as the hosts carried a narrow lead into the break.
The Egyptians doubled their lead through El Sulya in the 58th minute. The midfielder timed his run into the box perfectly, with his first touch from Soliman’s cross taking him past an Esperance defender, and with his second he slipped the ball past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
Belaili pulled a goal back for the visitors in the 64th minute after he was brought down inside the area by Ahmed El Shenawy. He duly dusted himself off before driving the ball home to make for a nervy finish.
Al Ahly restored their lead in the 76th minute following yet another penalty, with the referee making a rather contentious call following an off-the-ball incident inside the penalty area.
Nonetheless, Soliman stepped up and made no mistake from the spot to complete his brace and duly send the home fans into ecstasy.
He came close to netting a third moments later, but despite beating the goalkeeper, his free-kick attempt failed to have the beating of the woodwork.
The Red Devils, though, still take a comfortable lead into the second-leg as they edge closer to yet another continental crown.
The reverse fixture will take place at the Stade Olympique de Radès next Friday, the 9th of November.