JOHANNESBURG -Al-Ahly's talismanic midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika curled home a free kick but Orlando Pirates stuck deep in added time for a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the African Champions League final on Saturday.
The result at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg still leaves holders Ahli in a commanding position for the return in Egypt on Nov. 10.
Ahli are looking to win the continent's top club trophy for a fifth time in nine years and extend their record number of triumphs in the competition to eight.
They might have been even better placed, however, had it not been for Thabo Matlaba's equaliser for the South African team with virtually the last kick of the match.
The fullback took a speculative shot from the edge of the area in the 93rd minute and sneaked it past Ahli goalkeeper Sheriff Ekramy.
"We got a late one in there, now we have something to play for. I believe we can score there," said Pirates coach Roger de Sa.
Aboutrika, who announced his intention to retire after the final, hit home a 14th minute free kick with unerring accuracy from outside the penalty area to open the game, heightening his star status in Africa with another commanding performance.
The playmaker, who turns 35 this week and has won four Champions League titles, proved a dangerous and creative force for the Egyptians throughout the encounter, setting up a chance for a second goal that was erroneously ruled offside.
An astute pass into the area in the 51st minute set up Walid Soliman to thrash home from close range but Pirates were let off when the linesman ruled out the effort. Television replays showed Soliman in line with the last defender.
Ahli had few chances but played a patient and disciplined game, looking for the occasional counter-attacking opportunity as their hosts became increasingly desperate.
Pirates played a high tempo game with lots of quick passes and probing runs but were let down by their final pass.
Tight defence meant the South Africans were restricted to shots from long range in the first half, which all sailed wildly wide of the goal.
But they might have equalised in the 57th minute with a rasping low shot from Andile Jali that Ahli goalkeeper Ekramy, an injury doubt before the start of the game, turned around for a corner with a one-handed diving save.
With just seconds remaining, Matlaba picked up a short pass and hit just wide of Ekramy to the relief of the home crowd.