A last-gasp strike from Thabo Matlaba earned Orlando Pirates a vital draw against Al-Ahly in the first leg of the Orange CAF Champions League final on Saturday in Soweto.
The holders were cruising to a lone goal victory courtesy a Mohamed Aboutreika opener on 14 minutes before Matlaba drew level in added-on time to set the stage for the decider eight days later in Cairo.
Matlaba weaved past his markers before delivering a long range effort that beat Ahly goalie Sherif Ekramy to give the Buccaneers a huge boost ahead of the return leg.
Earlier, veteran midfielder Aboutreika proved he is not finished yet after a curling in a free-kick from outside the penalty area to put Ahly in a good stead.
The Egyptian giants made their experience count in the encounter that saw their hosts having the better of the exchanges. Pirates, playing in their first final since 1995, dominated possession but had nothing to show on the score cards and did not seem to possess the clinical finish or decisive touch in the final third.
The Buccaneers got off to a blistering pace backed by a packed crowd at the Orlando Stadium. The South Africans remained in control but it was Ahly which looked more dangerous on the counter with the speed of Walid Soliman a threat.
On 34 minutes, during one of such moves by the Red Devils, Aboutreika put Soliman through, but the latter’s grounder was no trouble for Pirates goalie Senzo Meyiwa.
Despite keeping the Ahly defence busy with their offensiveness, the hosts’ efforts barely threatened Ahly goalie Ekramy, who spent quite some time watching a good number of wild shots from Pirates sail over and away from goal. On several occasions, they missed target through their long drives after failing to break through the Ahly defence revolved around captain Wael Gomaa, Ahmed Fathy and Sayed Moawad.
The South Africans resumed the second half with the same tempo in search of the equalizer. Left winger, Daine Klate kept the Ahly defence on their toes but his crosses posed no major threat.
On 56 minutes, Klate was put through by Tlou Segolela, one of the busiest Pirates players on the day, but his final touch went wide to the relief of the visitors.
Two minutes later, Ekramy was to his side’s rescue by parrying out a goalbound shot by Andile Jali’s just outside the penalty area.
Ahly brought on Mauritania-import Dominique Da Silva in the closing stages seeking to hold on to the slim lead.
Pirates fought on and at the death of the game, Matlaba drew level via the final attack, firing through a sea of Ahly defenders into the net for the equalizer.
The return encounter will take place on November 10, with the winner pocketing 1.5 Million US Dollars and the ticket to represent the continent in the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December.