The leagues in Cameroon, South Africa and Tunisia all featured top-of-the-table clashes at the weekend as the leading clubs took on their nearest rivals. It proved thoroughly unsuccessful for the top teams, depriving the likes of Cotonsport Garoua, Mamelodi Sundowns and Esperance a chance to establish considerable leads in their respective leagues.
South Africa: Hauled back to the pack
Mamelodi Sundowns had a chance to go seven points clear at the head of the Premier League but find themselves suddenly just one point clear of the chasing pack after losing for a second successive match. After a surprise 3-2 loss at home just before the Christmas break, Sundowns were beaten by second placed Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday. Weekend wins for Orlando Pirates and Ajax Cape Town mean there are now just three points between the top four sides in the standings.
Big game: Soccer City celebrated the first action of 2011 by hosting one of the season’s classics with the added attraction that Sundowns were top of the standings and Chiefs just behind them. Kaizer Motaung Junior, whose father owns Chiefs, has often been the subject of derision from his own supporters and was given a torrid time by fans until he popped up to score the game’s only goal in the second half, rising to head home at the back post in one of Chiefs’ rare attacks of the afternoon.
Headline-grabbers: Former national team goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez returned after four years at Arminia Bielefeld in Germany in the first move of the January transfer window and was immediately thrust into action by SuperSport United on Saturday. But despite a man-of-the-match performance for the defending champions, Fernandez was beaten in the final minute as Orlando Pirates claimed a vital three points with a last-gasp winner.
Tunisia: Record loss for leaders
It was imperative that second-place Etoile Sahel beat league leaders Esperance in Sunday’s top of the table match in Ligue 1 to keep alive the title race, but the emphatic nature of their triumph sends a jolt of energy into the campaign. Etoile hammered their arch rivals 5-1 in Sousse and are now just one point behind at the halfway point of the season. With third-placed CS Sfaxien nine points adrift, it is likely this campaign is again evolving into a tightly contested two-team race.
Big game: Brazilians Danilo Bueno and Francileudo dos Santos scored to put Etoile two ahead of leaders Esperance at half-time, but perhaps more decisive was the 38th-minute dismissal of the visiting side’s playmaker Oussama Darragi. With the numerical advantage, Etoile were always expected to dominate, but goals from Lasaad Jaziri, Aymen Abdennour and Yakuba Diarra helped them to record their biggest-ever win over the reigning champions.
Headline-grabbers: It was a horror start for new Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul, whose predecessor Maher Kanzari was only in the job for a month. He will be mindful of the pressure of coaching Tunisia’s most successful club and moved quickly to take responsibility for the 5-1 loss, but at the same time blaming it on the aftershock from Esperance’s defeat in the CAF Champions League final late last year.
Cameroon: Keeping the leader in check
Cotonsport Garoua were held to a draw away from home at the weekend but still have a three point lead at the head of the Elite One after their top-of-the-table clash. The defending champions are again threatening to run away with the lead but the 1-1 draw at Canon Yaounde stymied their goals, while Canon dropped from second to fourth with Unisport Bafana and Union Douala even in second on 14 points.
Big game: Canon’s place as the glamour club of Cameroon football has been threatened in recent years by Cotonsport's dominance, adding further spice to their match at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium on Sunday. A large crowd assembled for the promise of a tight clash, and so it proved, as Balokog Nack equalised in the second half to ensure Cotonsport a point.
Headline-grabbers: Three coaches have already lost their jobs after just eight rounds of the new season, the latest being Jean Claude Bitomo at Renaissance de Ngoumou. Also out in recent weeks: Yaya Anourou from bottom side AS Lausanne de Yaounde and Gabriel Zabo at Caiman Douala.
Senegal: Champions struggle to get going
Champions Diaraf Dakar continued their poor start to the season and have now gone four games without a victory. Their haul of three points from four matches leaves them in the bottom half of the table along with some of the country’s other long established clubs. Jeanne d’Arc, who were champions last in 2003, are second from bottom and AS Douanes lie in 12th place.
Big game: Diaraf had managed just two goals in the first three games of the new campaign and that drought continued in the scoreless draw at home to Casa Sports at the Demba Diop Stadium on Sunday.
Headline grabbers: Newly promoted ASC Toure Kounda from the provincial town of Mbour had made a major impact in recent months, winning the cup as a second division side in October, earning promotion and beating Diaraf in one of their first matches. But their dream run came to a stark halt at home on Saturday as Niary Tally beat them 1-0.
Djoliba’s 1-0 win over Stade Malien in the Bamako derby on Sunday has opened up a four-point lead at the top of the national championship in Mali.
African Confederation Cup winner FUS Rabat have been catching up on their postponed league programme, and they beat Chabab Kasda Talba 1-0 away in the only fixture of the weekend in Morocco.
It has taken 33 years, but Real Tamale United have finally beaten former African champions Hearts of Oak in Ghana’s Premier League, although both sides remain in relegation danger.