By Deolu Akigbade with Fasheun-motesho Oluwafolajinmi.
Al Ahly, the proclaimed “club of the century”, the team with over 45 titles to its name and arguably the most recognizable club in the African continent, was inches away from suffering a humiliating group stage exit in the CAF Champions League.
The perpetrators? Al-Hilal Omdurman, a Sudan side that had only just gotten good thanks to its aggressiveness in the transfer market and its new head coach, Florent Ibengé.
Led by Congolese winger Makabi Lilepo, Al-Hilal has been on a roll. Aside from a matchday one loss to Mamelodi Sundowns, Al-Hilal has pulled out impressive victories when defeat seems likely. There was the 1-0 win in Omdurman, the two wins against Coton Sport, and even the impressive stalemate against Sundowns at home to set itself up nicely for the final matchday.
New signings in David Abagna and Ousmane Diouf have complemented past stars in Abdul Ajagun and Mohamed Abdelrahman. Together, they have created an X-factor team; difficult to break down on defense and a headache to defend against.
On the other side, Al Ahly has looked mediocre at best and pitiful at worst going into their Cairo matchup against Al-Hilal. The title favorites, who seemed ready to win their eleventh Champions League title in history, started off strong with a 3-0 win against Coton Sport, but immediately fell apart against Al-Hilal.
From there, they took just one point from two games at Sundowns (a comeback 2-2 draw and a catastrophic 5-2 loss), and a 4-0 away win at Coton Sport leaves them with hope to advance to the quarter-finals, even if they need a win against a notoriously cynical Al Hilal side.
Al Ahly took the pitch amid flares and fireworks with a mostly unchanged side that walloped Coton Sport 4-0 a few weeks ago. Keeper Mohamed El-Shenawy got the call-up, while Ali Maaloul played as a left-back. Mohamed Abdelmonem and Rami Rabia were the center-back duo, while Mohamed Hany started on the right.
Amr-El Solia and Marwan Attia were the center midfield duo, with Ahmed Abdelkader on the left of them and Percy Tau on the right. Mohamed Kahraba, fresh off a mind-boggling hat trick to keep Al Ahly in postseason contention, started alongside Mohamed Magdy to complete the 4-4-2.
Al-Hilal keeper Issa Fofana got his start, while center-back duo Diouf and Mohamed Saeed played in front of him. Ibrahim Imoro played as a left-back and Athar Eltahir played on the right.
The midfield duo of Mohamed Abauagla and Wailedin Khidir, with Lilepo playing as a left-midfielder and Yasir Mozamil on the right, sought to see out the necessary draw, while the two strikers in Abdelrahman and Fabrice Ngoma loitered up top waiting for a sporadic attacking spell.
Al Hilal was conservative at best as they looked to frustrate Al Ahly early on with a low block, and cynical at worst as they helped bring the game down into a physical, gruelling brawl of a match.
Unsurprisingly, they threw players behind the ball. Al-Hilal’s 4-4-2 on paper looked exactly that way on the pitch as the back line dropped deep and the midfield swarmed on Al Ahly’s pass-happy possessors.
As low as the defense went, they were still porous. Al Ahly often pulled defenders away from the wing, letting Tau and others feast on the defense. Of course, some of it is because of Al Ahly’s inventive third-man runs, but the fact of the matter was Al-Hilal was tame on the flanks. Although it helped them put players in the box, they conceded some really good chances from the flanks.
At times, it seemed Al Hilal was tactically rusty. Like in Kahraba’s goal. Abdelkader should never have been able to make the pass in the first place. He receives the ball from Maaloul and is faced with two choices; A, pass the ball to El-Solia, or B, pass the ball back to Maaloul. With Eltahir pushing up, Ngoma and Mozamil do not help Eltahir pressure Abdelkader into one of the poor choices.
Instead, Abdelkader takes a sole dribbler, simultaneously opening his body up to play a long ball while also finding a good pocket of space. He then plays a perfect pass to Kahraba, who magnificently controls the pass and hits it first-time in the same motion. Abdelkader should have been stopped right there, but indecisiveness and hesitancy put the score at 1-0.
From there, Al Hilal looked to attack, as the current scoreline would have them eliminated. Despite the optimistic, surging runs from Abdelrahman and Al Hilal’s fervent pressing, Al Ahly still had too much time on the ball and did not seem disciplined in transition. Al Ahly’s second goal, as Percy Tau slashed down the right wing and pulled three defenders while finding super-sub Hussein El Shahat open, was a big example of that.
So was Al Ahly’s third goal in the 81st minute that ended Al Hilal’s hopes of advancing to the Champions League quarter-finals. Attia gets too much time on the ball, and even though his pass is not pin-point, Eltahir is caught out by surprise and lets El Shahat win the ball without any trouble. From there, El Shahat fakes a shot to get a better look and cannons his shot into the back of the net.
For an Al Hilal side that had so many good performances going into the match, it was a massive let-off. Watching the game, it seemed that Al Hilal was killed from individual errors, not a gulf in quality or being tactically outplayed.
Al Ahly played a CAF champions league match against Al Hilal at the Cairo International Stadium, Al Ahly dominated the match from start to finish with Al Hilal (due to player injuries) trying to soak up the Al Ahly pressure and trying to score through counter attacks via Interceptions or Al Ahly mistakes.
This didn’t work out well as Al Ahly (having their best players fit) didn’t even have to play at their best as they won the match 3:0. The aim of this article is trying to show the numbers that allowed Al Ahly to win the match comfortably.
Starting with possession, Al Ahly finished the match with 61% compared to Al Hilal’s 39%, from this we can see Al Ahly had more of the ball during the match, again looking at duels i.e., 2 players competing for the ball, the game had 103 duels with Al Hilal having a higher duel success rate (55.34%), fewer fouls conceded (9), fewer tackles (13) but a higher tackle success rate (84.615%), more clearances (25), more interceptions (20) and more ball recoveries (79) compared to Al Ahly’s lower duel success rate (44.66%), higher fouls conceded (17), more tackles (15) but a lower tackle success rate (73.333%), fewer clearances (16), fewer interceptions (10), and fewer ball recoveries (75).
The combination of all the above stats, tells a story of Al Ahly being a less physical team but a more technical team, a team that controls possession and tries to consistently put their opposition under pressure, with the ball by generating decent attacking situations with the majority of their attacks in this match coming through their left side (40.5%), this could be further seen by looking at their attacking stats, Al Ahly scored 3 goals, playing 14 shots (5 of these shots were played outside the box, while 9 were played inside the box) with 5 of those shots being on target, 4 of these shots were blocked and they had a shooting accuracy of 35.714%, with these stats we can see that Al Ahly could do with being more clinical, after looking at how good they were in attack, what was Al Ahly’s state defensively?
Well, based on the above stats, Al Ahly was an average team when it came to defending in this match, in fact, Al Hilal despite having less possession was still able to play 12 shots (6 of these shots were played outside the box, while 6 were played inside the box) and only 2 of these shots were on target and they had a shooting accuracy of 16.667%, showing if Al Hilal were more clinical or had a better finisher, the score line could have been very different who knows.
In summary from this match, Al Ahly showed themselves to be a technical possession team, who tried putting their opposition i.e., Al Hilal under constant attacking pressure, they won by 3 goals but if more clinical could have won by more, also defensively this match, they weren’t at their best as they conceded chances and were lucky that Al Hilal wasn’t clinical. Improving defensively and Being more clinical with chances and you can see Al Ahly going very far in the CAF Champions League.
The Egyptians will move on to the quarter-finals where they will face the team to beat in Raja Casablanca. Raja has gone unbeaten in the group stage, with only a draw to Vipers in March keeping them from winning all six games. It’s certainly a difficult fixture, but with time under Koller, Al Ahly can soar back to its previous heights.
Speaking of Koller, he is still on the hot seat despite the clutch and final-day win. His side seemed catastrophic even with a lot of possession, and a lack of respect not only in the locker room but also upstairs in the boardroom, could prove fatal to what promised to be a long stint in Cairo.
“I thank the Al Ahly fans. It was the first time I attended a match with this number of fans, and I didn’t think it would be this magnificent. I experienced beautiful times during the game, and we had to return the favor on the pitch. We definitely need the fans, and any team that will face us will suffer, and I ask the officials to be happy and to facilitate the presence of these fans.
“Our goal was to qualify, even if it was with just one goal, so we wanted not to concede goals at the start because the opponent would open their lines to score, and thus we would take advantage of the spaces.
As for Al-Hilal, they will exit the Champions League and move on to the Sudan Premier League, as they jockey for first place with a game in hand over fierce competitors and rivals Al-Merrikh.
They will also hope to qualify for the Arab Club Champions Cup as they take on Bahraini club Manama. With a successful result, they will go on to face the winner between Qatar SC and Club Africain. With Ibenge and a host of new stars in tow, Al-Hilal looks exciting as they look to achieve success elsewhere in the world.