Tunisian sides did well over the weekend in the CAF Champions League, with holders Esperance winning 6-0 and Etoile du Sahel coasting to a 4-1 victory in the first leg of the Round of 16. Egypt's two clubs had varying fortunes as Zamalek claimed a settling win in Morocco but Al Ahly were left with egg on their face in Mali.
Game of the week
Etoile du Sahel 4-1 AFAD Djekanou
The Tunisians won this event in 2007, and they took a big step toward a place in the group stage for the time since 2009 in Saturday's eventful win over the Ivorians in Sousse. The visitors had a man sent off midway through the second half, while the hosts missed a penalty in each period. The score remained 2-1 until the last five minutes when coach Faouzi Benzarti's team pushed forward and were rewarded with late goals by Mossaab Saasi and Hatem Bejaoui, which will help ease nerves for the return leg in Abidjan in a fortnight,
Stade Malian 1-0 Al Ahly
Not much went right for Ahly in Bamako. Wael Gomaa was forced off with injury not even ten minutes into his comeback from injury, and the Egyptians looked rudderless without out of favour captain Hossam Ghali. Emad Meteab had the best chance for the visitors a quarter-hour before fulltime, but he failed to shoot when in alone on the goalkeeper. When the match seemed to be drifting to a draw, Ahly's defence failed to react as quickly as Lamine Diawara, who rose to head home from close range. Frequent qualifiers for the Champions League, Stade Malien have failed to make significant headway in the competition since reaching the final of the first-ever continental club title in 1964, but they will try to hold their advantage and reach the group stage for the first time at the expense of the six-time African champions in Cairo.
The other matches
Esperance showed no signs their form is slipping. Currently on a 12-match unbeaten run in Tunisia, the Sang et Or never let up on Dynamos and scored three times in each half. Starlet Youssef Msakni continued to sparkle with a double, but the entire team showed why they won the league, cup and continental treble last term. The club that preceded Esperance at the top of the African heap, Congo DR's TP Mazembe, also kept up momentum by beating Sudan's well-regarded Al Merreikh 2-0 in Lubumbashi. Goals from Mbwana Ali Samata and Tresor Mabi Mputu give the Crows a welcome cushion for what always figures to be a tough match in Omdurman.
In contrast to rivals Ahly, Zamalek had a good away day, and the Whites ran out to a surprisingly straightforward 2-0 win at Maghreb de Fes. It was a heartening performance by the five-time African champions, who were without several key players. Mahmoud Fathallah and Salah Soliman led a backline that blunted the attack of CAF Confederation Cup and Super Cup champions MAS. Zamalek scored their goals in the late going, with captain Ahmed Hassan leading the way in the 78th minute before promising targetman Ahmed Gaafar headed home.
Coton Sport did well to stymie the usually free-scoring Ghanaians Berekum Chelsea, who missed a handful of quality chances in a scoreless draw with the Cameroonian champions. Emmanuel Clottey and Ibrahim Issaka misfired in the first half when they might have bulged the net, while the skilful Solomon Asante pulled two chances of his own wide in the second period. Sunshine Stars of Nigeria scored inside the first minute and held on for a 1-1 draw at Mali’s Djoliba. Striker Izu Azuka opened the scoring with a slick solo effort, and goalkeeper Moses Ocheje did his best to maintain the advantage until substitute Ibourahima Sidibe finally equalised from 20 yards out. ASO Chlef's Karim Ali Hadji scored the all-important away goal at Al Hilal, who went ahead in the early going through Mudathir El Tahir.
Player to watch
Esperance's Youssef Msakni is rumoured to be Africa's next big export to Europe, but the 22-year-old attacking midfielder shows no signs of distraction. He has three goals in his last two continental games, and he is second in the domestic scoring charts with nine goals - just one behind team-mate Joseph Yannick Ndjeng.
2 – The number of Moroccan clubs that reached the eight-team group stage last year – the Casablanca duo of Wydad and Raja – but unless MAS can overturn their two-goal deficit in Cairo, there will be none this term.
What they said
“Any team who has ambitions to win the Champions League must be able to win away from their home” Zamalek coach Hassan Shehata
Have your say
Will the winner of the Champions League come from North Africa?