PRETORIA — Al-Ahly coach Marcel Kohler insists his side can still reach the African Football League final despite losing 1-0 to Mamelodi Sundowns in semi-final first-leg.
Thapelo Maseko’s second half thunderbolt earned South Africa’s Sundowns victory in the opening encounter in Pretoria.
But ahead of Wednesday’s return match in Cairo, Kohler remains confident Al-Ahly can turn the tie around on home soil.
“We have a chance to qualify and I believe the Cairo match will decide everything,” the Swiss coach said after the game.
“We will make every effort to win, especially since our fans will support us,” Kohler added according to cafonline official website.
Kohler believes Al Ahly performed creditably for large parts of the first leg before being undone by a lapse in concentration.
“We played a good first half defensively but lacked calmness. In the second half we conceded after an error,” he explained.
With the tie delicately poised, Kohler knows Al Ahly must raise their game in the intimidating atmosphere of Cairo.
But he is backing his players to find the breakthroughs needed to progress to the inaugural AFL decider.
“Sundowns are one of the best teams in Africa and always compete for titles,” Kohler added.
“We only have two days to prepare but we will do everything we can.”
Having dominated African club football for decades, record 11-time champions Ahly have vast experience to call upon.
Despite trailing 1-0 from the first-leg, Kohler clearly believes his decorated squad still has the quality to turn the semi-final on its head.
By playing up home advantage and talking up his team’s pedigree, the coach has kept Ahly’s hopes alive.
Now they must walk the walk in Cairo to avoid AFL heartbreak and continue their quest for more continental glory.
A second half thunderbolt from Thapelo Maseko sealed victory for the South Africans, who largely bossed proceedings against the Egyptian giants at Loftus Versfeld Stadium.
Maseko went closest for Sundowns when his effort was superbly denied by Mohamed el-Shenawy just after the half hour mark.
But the lively winger finally found the breakthrough in the 52nd minute, firing an unstoppable long-range strike beyond El-Shenawy.
Sundowns looked comfortable until the closing stages when Percy Tau appealed in vain for a penalty after going down under a challenge.
Coach Rhulani Mokwena will be satisfied with a performance that sets his side up nicely to progress to the inaugural AFL final.
But Al Ahly remain very much in the tie as they prepare to welcome Sundowns to their intimidating Cairo fortress.
Elsewhere, Wydad Casablanca coach Adel Ramzi praised his players after their 1-0 AFL semi-final first-leg win over Esperance but warned the tie remains in the balance.
Hicham Bousfiane’s second half strike earned Wydad a narrow advantage to defend in Wednesday’s return match in Tunisia.
But Ramzi says his side cannot afford to be complacent with a place in the inaugural AFL final at stake.
“Praise be to God, we scored a positive result and controlled the match for 90 minutes,” Ramzi told BBC Sport Africa after the game.
“We created some chances and Esperance also had opportunities – that’s football. The important thing is they didn’t score at home.”
Wydad dominated the clash at Stade Mohamed V, albeit without killing off their stubborn opponents.
And Ramzi acknowledged his team’s efficiency must improve in the second leg to finish the job.
“I’m still looking for things that must improve further, especially regarding effectiveness,” he admitted.
The Moroccan coach was keen to thank his players for executing the gameplan in a high stakes encounter between the bitter rivals.
“The players are very grateful. Now they must recover and rest,” Ramzi added.
With the tie hanging in the balance, the Wydad boss knows a stormy reception awaits his side in Tunisia.
“The semi-final has 180 minutes and the return match is in Tunisia where we’ll complete the mission,” he stated.
By praising his squad but challenging them to raise their levels again, Ramzi has set the tone for Wydad to progress.
After seizing a slender first leg lead, the three-time African champions still have everything to play for as they bid for AFL glory.