TOKYO: A goal from Al Ittihad captain Mohammed Noor ended African champions Al Ahly's 18-month winning streak as the World Club Championships got underway yesterday on a bitterly cold night.
The attacking midfielder made the most of a terrible fumble by Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El Hadary to slot the ball home in the 78th minute to give the Asian champions a deserved 1-0 victory.
It brought an end to Al Ahly's 55-match unbeaten run and handed the Saudi side a crack at South American champions Sao Paulo in the semi-finals here on Wednesday.
It was all the more remarkable as the club from the Red Sea port of Jeddah went into the match without five first team players.
Two were suspended and the other three, Brazil's Pedrinho, Marcao, and Lima, were tossed out of the competition by FIFA on Saturday.
Al Ahly tipped off FIFA that the trio were not properly registered by the club and a subsequent investigation confirmed this.
The Al Ahly tactic upset Ittihad coach Anghel Iordanescu who ordered his team to show their character and the Asian powerhouse did just that.
In front of FIFA president Sepp Blatter and a half empty Tokyo National Stadium, they deserved the victory after piling on the pressure in the second half after a lacklustre first 45 minutes.
After a hatful of chances they finally got the break when El Hadary failed to collect a cross from Ahmed Al Dosari.
Noor jumped on the mistake to dribble the ball into the net and spark ecstatic celebrations on the Al Ittihad bench. It was their fifth successive win over their old Arab enemy.
With both teams more used to warmer weather, it took them time to find any rhythm and it was Al Ahly who had the better of the first half.
They should have gone one up when Ahmed El Sayed shaved the post with a delicate chip from inside the box after five minutes.
They had another glorious chance to open their account after half an hour when Emad Motab's thundering shot cannoned into goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid's legs, spinning away for a corner.
The World Club Championships pits the club champions from each continent, and also involves Liverpool, Sydney FC and Deportivo Saprissa. AFP