ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (AP) -Egypt beat Zimbabwe 2-1 in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday, with Mohamed Aboutrika's 88th-minute winner from the penalty spot rewarding around 10,000 fans allowed in to watch an Egyptian home game for the first time in over a year.
Aboutrika delivered Egypt's third win in three games in qualifying to move five points clear at the top of its group and allow the supporters to celebrate amid heavy police and army security at Borg El Arab Stadium.
Soldiers patrolled inside and outside the stadium in the Mediterranean city while riot police surrounded the outer edges of the field, watching over the crowd. It was the first time fans were let in to watch the Egyptian national team at home since riots at a stadium in Port Said over a year ago, when more than 70 people were killed in clashes at a league game.
Midfielder Hosny Abd Rabo gave Egypt the lead with a free kick on 65 minutes. Knowledge Musona equalized for Zimbabwe in the 75th with a fantastic solo goal as he shrugged off his marker and shot into the top corner from 25 yards (meters) out.
Aboutrika made certain the historic return of supporters was marked with a victory after substitute Ahmed Gaafar was fouled by Augustine Mbara inside the area in the last five minutes.
Egypt moved to a maximum nine points from three games in Group G after earlier wins over Mozambique and Guinea. The team guided by former U.S. coach Bob Bradley now has a first appearance at the World Cup in over 20 years in its sights. The 10 group winners in African qualifying will progress to five decisive playoff ties and Egypt looks set to be one of those teams, despite the political turbulence and violence that still fractures the country.
Before Tuesday's match, roads leading to the stadium were sealed off and only ticket-holding fans were allowed beyond certain points. In the outer parts of the stadium complex, black-suited riot police sat in heavily protected black police vehicles.
Still, the fans created a vibrant atmosphere despite the more than 70,000 seats left empty in the huge Borg El Arab arena. Egyptian authorities had decided to restrict the number of fans to 10,000 with the North African country still traumatized by violence that spilled from the streets onto the football pitch in Port Said, also on Egypt's Mediterranean coast, last February.
Bradley, who led the United States to the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, told reporters ahead of the match that his main priority was to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with the Egyptian side.
The record seven-time African champions haven't qualified for the World Cup since 1990, but look to be on their way to the final playoffs despite all the ongoing problems at home.