Sydney FC 2 – Al Ahly 1
Sydney FC 2 – Al Ahly 1
| It would have been a grave disappointment to leave Japan empty-handed, and Friday night’s victory over Egyptian club Al Ahly, while not achieved in entirely convincing fashion, delighted Sydney FC fans – and supporters of Australian football – everywhere.
Only two changes were made to the side. The suspended Alvin Ceccoli was replaced at left-back by the ever-versatile Matthew Bingley, while Ufuk Talay was preferred to Terry McFlynn in midfield.
If we were a little unlucky to go down to Deportivo Saprissa, fortune could be said to have evened out against Al Ahly. The Egyptian side unquestionably had the better of the game, playing much attractive short-passing football, only to be let down by poor finishing.
Even in the opening minutes, the African side looked sharp and determined. Dwight Yorke, playing even deeper than usual, was on hand to blunt an early offensive; after eight minutes, Al Ahly’s attacking left-back, Wahab, had the first real chance of the game after an adventurous run. Two more chances for the Egyptians followed in quick succession: a shot from the captain Hosni, well held by Bolton, and a low cross from the ever-dangerous Mohammed Barakat that required a desperate clearance by Mark Rudan.
Sydney FC were looking nervous; Clint Bolton, uncharacteristically, flapped at a cross on 14 minutes, and his teammates were relieved to see an Al Ahly attacker return the compliment by scuffing his shot by the far post; a few minutes later, Yorke was caught in possession only twenty yards from goal.
After another chance engineered by Barakat – Motab heading over after a clever run and cross – Sydney FC finally woke up. Bingley, having an indifferent evening otherwise, crossed for Petrovski to head over the bar on 28 minutes, and soon afterwards it was the other full-back, Milligan, who planted the ball on Petrovski’s head. This time, under some pressure, he put it wide.
Sydney’s brief revival was crowned on 35 minutes with a goal. A Corica free kick on the right bypassed the big men in the box and fell to Yorke, whose superb angled header left the keeper, El-Sayed, with no chance.
Sydney retained the initiative for the next few minutes, and as half-time approached, it looked like Littbarski would be the happier man in the dugout come the whistle. It was not to be; Sydney’s lack of pace in defence was nastily exposed by the speedy Motab, who, running onto a thoughtful ball out of midfield, surged away from Fyfe and Rudan, rounded Bolton and finished expertly.
Al Ahly carried their psychological edge into the second half, and in the very first minute after the restart they had an excellent chance to take the lead. This time it was Aboutraika who slipped through the clutches of Sydney’s centre-back pairing; a heavy final touch denied him the chance of scoring after Bolton’s timely run off his line, and his cut-back, fortunately for Sydney FC, saw two Al Ahly players get in each other’s way for the shot.
Rudan was forced to clear a header from El Nahhas off the line soon afterwards, and Barakat, for once getting through on goal himself, was again foiled by an alert run from Bolton and a poor final touch. A ball flashed across Sydney’s goalmouth a minute later, then Shawky had a shot…it was all Al Ahly.
Perhaps with a view to stiffening Sydney’s defensive capacity in midfield, Littbarski brought Andrew Packer on for Corica after 64 minutes. An inspired substitution perhaps, since just two minutes later, Sydney went ahead again.
David Carney, having a quiet night by his standards, had drifted into the centre in his customary fashion. Petrovski, on the edge of the box, slid a pass through for the blond winger to chase; while the Egyptians clamoured for a non-existent offside, Carney moved to the left-hand side of the six-yard area, and sent a crisp low shot into the netting on the far side of the goal.
Again Al Ahly went on the offensive, again they lacked the finish their lead-up play deserved. Motab had another header on 69 minutes, Shawky had another wild swing on 78 minutes, but the match was slowly slipping out of the Africans’ grasp. Even so, a marvellous save from Bolton was required six minutes from the end, when Barakat was set up by the Al Ahly substitute, Flavio.
After a moment of confusion over Sydney’s final substitution – Zdrilic, apparently coming on for Kazu, eventually replaced Petrovski – it was left to the two old hands, Yorke and Kazu, to cannily run down the clock in injury time by the left-hand corner flag. Then time: Sydney FC, a club less than a year old, had defeated the African champions and one of the most respected club teams outside of Europe.
Merry Christmas, Sydney FC.
Sydney FC: Bolton; Milligan, Fyfe, Rudan, Bingley; Carney, Yorke, Talay (McFlynn), Corica (Packer); Kazu, Petrovski (Zdrilic).