An error by Ahly’s keeper Sherif Ekrami allowed Esperance to claim a precious 2-2 away draw on Saturday in the first leg of the African Champions League quarter finals.
The 34-year-old international keeper rose to catch a long range free kick from Ghailane Chaalali, but the ball slipped between his hands into his own net, bringing the score to a 2-1 lead for Esperance in the 48th minute after first half goals from Abdallah El-Said in the 10th minute and Yassine Khenessi in the 20th minute.
Moroccan striker Walid Azaro earned the draw for the eight-time African Champions in the 67th minute, giving little hope for the Reds ahead of next week’s return leg in Rades.
Action started as early as the 5th minute when Ahmed El-Sheikh squandered an easy chance as he intercepted a low cross from Azaro inside the six yards but he put it in the hands of the Tunisian keeper.
Five minutes later, the Reds hit Esperance on the counter as Ahmed Fathi sent a long ball to El-Said, who unleashed Azaro clear in the area only to be fouled by Montassar El-Talbi. El-Said converted the penalty kick on the right bottom corner after sending the keeper in the wrong direction.
Azaro could have doubled the lead seven minutes later when El-Sheikh swung in a cross from the right, but his header went wide.
The visitors pressed forward to cause Ahly’s defence some anxious moments. Ekrami was alerted by a powerful shot from Yassine Khenessi, but he managed to block it firmly.
In the 20th minute, Chaalali flicked a corner to Khenessi – unmarked at the far post – to score the equaliser from close range.
It took some time for the hosts to regain their composure, but they were back again on offense and Azaro was guilty of a glaring mistake when he missed the target from inside the box with only the keeper to beat.
However, Ahly seemed unable to maintain their domination on the game, especially with their rivals applying high pressure to prevent their build-up play.
The hosts were stunned just after the interval by Chaalali’s goal against the course of play.
Coach Hossam El-Badri brought in Walid Soliman and Saleh Gomaa to bolster his attack against a packed Tunisian defense.
Finally, Azaro converted Ahly’s domination when he picked the rebound from Gomaa’s free kick to slot home the equaliser in the 67th minute.
As Esperance sat back on defense, Ahly attacked in waves and keeper Moez Ben Cherifia produced some impressive saves to deny Ajayi, Fathi and veteran striker Emad Meteb.
The Reds will now head to Rades hoping for a victory on Saturday to pursue their quest for a first title since 2013.