CAIRO: Mohamed Aboutraika sparkled as Al-Ahli of Egypt beat ASEC of Ivory Coast 2-0 in the first leg of an African Champions League semi-final at the weekend.
The midfielder, who helped Egypt win the African Nations Cup a record fifth time last February, scored the first goal and created the second before a near-capacity crowd at the 80,000-seat Cairo Stadium.
Aboutraika smiled continuously in a showdown between two of the club giants on the continent as Ahli moved into overdrive midway through the opening half to score twice within 14 minutes.
The Egyptians were unable to maintain their frenetic style in a less exciting second half and the defending champions appeared to settle for a two-goal advantage well before the final whistle.
ASEC host the return match on Oct. 15 in Abidjan, one day after Club Sportif Sfaxien of Tunisia and Orlando Pirates of South Africa resume hostilities following a 0-0 draw in Johannesburg last Saturday.
There are few more pleasing sights in African football than Aboutraika on song and Ahli supporters roared their appreciation every time the tall, elegant magician touched the ball.
And no roar was louder that the one greeting his 25th-minute goal as he latched on to a pass from substitute Ahmed Fathy and struck a half-volley which flew into the net off a hand of goalkeeper Mohamed Kabore.
The ASEC custodian must take the blame for the second goal 13 minutes later as he got both hands to an Emad Moteab header, but allowed the ball slip from his grasp and trickle into the corner of the net.
If the execution was laced with luck, the creation was inspired with an Aboutraika back heel catching ASEC off guard and providing Tarek Said with time and space to cross. Ahli, chasing a record-equaling fifth Champions League title, started hesitantly and ASEC created the first chance only to be let down by a venom-less Konan Kouame free kick.
This was the jolt an Ahli team lacking six squad members due to injuries and suspensions needed as they quickly took control with Aboutraika and Moteab prominent.
ASEC, who conceded just two goals in 12 qualifying and pool matches, panicked under pressure and timely interventions by Burkina Faso national team first-choice Kabore rescued several dangerous situations.
Ahli lost experienced striker and sometime captain Osama Hosny just 18 minutes into the first half and replacement Fathy grabbed his chance with a superb performance.
ASEC squandered the chance to grab a precious away goal when Vincent Die Foneye headed weakly at goalkeeper Essam Al-Hadary from close range and when leading scorer Didier Ya Konan touched a cross, the ball flew just wide.
Al-Hadary continued to be a spectator for most of the second half while Kabore was afforded greater protection with ASEC sensing that a third Ahli goal would kill off the tie.
Ahli or ASEC have home advantage in the first leg of the final at the end of October and the winners collect $1 million and an invitation to the FIFA club world championship in Japan during December.