Ahly needed a second-half goal from substitute Hussein El-Shahat to claim a narrow 1-0 home win over Sudan’s Al-Hilal and qualify for the African Champions League quarters as Group A runners-up on Sunday.
Needing just a draw to advance, Ahly laboured for much of a match low on quality and survived a couple of scares before El-Shahat’s composed finish from an Ahmed Abdel-Kader assist settled their nerves with 16 minutes left on the clock.
The Red Devils continued their bid for another triumph as they seek to become the first team to win a hat-trick of successive Champions League crowns. They will learn their quarter-final opponents when the knockouts draw takes place on Tuesday.
Al-Hilal had no option but to win to go through virtue of a better head-to-head record, with their Omdurman meeting against Ahly having ended in a 0-0 draw in February.
But they instead finished third with four points, six adrift of Ahly. South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns topped the group with 16 points, having drawn only once in an impressive group-stage campaign.
For all their territorial dominance in the first half, Ahly found it hard to carve out openings, managing only a couple of half-chances.
Talented winger Abdel-Kader headed straight into the keeper’s hands and playmaker Magdi Afsha mis-hit his kick from a good scoring position, while Al-Hilal failed to muster any shots at the other end.
Ahly also had a valid penalty appeal when Abdel-Kader was brought down by a sliding tackle from an opponent, but the referee waved play on. The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology is not used in the Champions League group stage.