Merreikh had to fight back from a goal down to snatch a 1-1 draw away to rivals El Hilal in a Group A Day One clash on Friday night in Omdurman.
Hilal took the lead on 31 minutes thanks to Nigeria-born playmaker Azeez Shobowale, before ElSamani Saadeldin leveled for Merreikh with a spectacular volley on the hour mark.
The result saw both sides going away with a point each, two shy of Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, 5-0 winners of over debutants Ferroviario da Beira of Mozambique in the other Group A match earlier in Sousse.
Hilal started brightly and nearly went up in the opening minutes with Ghana-import Abednego Tetteh and captain Mudather Eltaib Careca having chances at goal.
Shobowale, Careca and Nazar Hamid Hilal had the upperhand in midfield, and asked the Merreikh defence several questions in their quest to break the deadlock.
On 13 minutes, Saadeldin forced a superb save of Hilal goalie Loic Feudjou before Bakri Al Madina headed wide from Ali Gaafar’s cross minutes later.
Shobowale broke the deadlock just after the half-hour mark, making a sharp turn from a Careca pass before firing past Merreikh goalie Jamal Salim.
The host almost added to the lead but Tetteh, Careca and Hamid missed from close range.
Merreikh found their feet during the final seven minutes of the first half but had to wait till the hour mark to draw even through Saadeldin, who unleashed a thunderbolt that left Feudjou with no option.
The equalizer was exactly was Merreikh needed to up their game and it came at the right time after pressing the Hilal backline.
The homers brought on Ghanaian Augustine Okrah, Mohamed Musa and Abu Aagla in the course of the game, but their efforts rarely made a difference as far as the scoreline was concerned.
Diego Garzitto (Head Coach, Merreikh)
We did not play as planned in the first half, because the players were nervous. Our goal was to move the ball forward, but we did not succeed, and gave our opponents easy chances. We made changes in the first half to the players’ positions by pushing Pascal Wawa to the right back because Careca was causing many problems. Looking at the result, for an away game, it is a good start.
In less than 10 days, we will play an important match against Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel, who achieved a great result against Ferroviario da Beira (won 5-0). We have few days to prepare for the task.
Nabil Al Kouki (Head Coach, Hilal)
We played the match as planned in the first half and could have been four or five goals up. We missed a lot of chances through Abednego Tetteh and Careca. We made a big progress in the first 45 minutes. We lost concentration in the opening minutes of the second half and Merreikh capitalized on that to equalize. We bounced back in the last 20 minutes, and could have scored at least three goals. The defenders who made their debuts show their worth and we gave a good account of ourselves. My task now is to bring back my team to the right track after a draw at home, by going for a win in the next game away against Ferroviario da Beira of Mozambique, a team with great ambition.
Source: Confederation Africaine de Football