Holders TP Mazembe Englebert and former champions Ismaili made giant strides towards a place in the group phase of the CAF Champions League with away wins in the first leg of the third round at the weekend.
However, there is a possible shock in store again for the previously dominant Al Ahly of Egypt, who lost 2-0 in Tripoli to Al Ittihad.
An away draw for last year’s runners-up, Heartland FC of Nigeria, has them set for return to the last eight, while four goals for Dynamos of Zimbabwe means they too can start planning for the mini league, which kicks off in July after the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
We played very well and we know we will face a very tough match in Cairo in the return. Ahly are one of the biggest sides in Africa... But we are confident of making it to the group stages.
Holders show confidence
Mazembe have not burst out of the starting blocks this season but there was a warning about their determination to hold onto their continental crown in their display in Bamako on Sunday as they won away 1-0 at Djoliba.
A penalty from talisman Tresor Mputu ensured the win, the goal coming six minutes into the second half and now sets Mazembe up for a routine assignment in the return leg early next month. One blip may be that they must play in Kinshasa rather than at home in Lubumbashi because of renovations to their ground.
Mazembe had not been convincing in their previous round against APR FC of Rwanda, they advanced 2-1 on aggregate, and also have made a slow start in domestic competition. But there was an imperious air about their success on Sunday that suggests it is going to take a special side to dethrone them.
Ups and downs for Egypt
Quick thinking by Mohammed Hommos, who was the first to get to a rebound when a free kick came back off the opposition bar, allowed Egypt’s Ismaili a 1-0 away win at Al Hilal in neighbouring Sudan to also put them in an advantageous position for the return leg in a fortnight.
Ismaili’s form contrasts with that of compatriots Al Ahly, who face the unusual spectre of elimination at this stage of the competition for the second successive year. The Cairo giants suffered a shock defeat on the away goal rule at the hands of Kano Pillars in 2009 and are now facing the prospect of going out again after a 2-0 loss to Al Ittihad in Tripoli on Friday.
The Libyans scored through international Younes Shibani and Ahmed Zuway in front of a fervent crowd of 70,000 but are still cautious about their chances. “We played very well and we know we will face a very tough match in Cairo in the return. Ahly are one of the biggest sides in Africa and they will want to progress in front of their own fans. But we are confident of making it to the group stages,” said Zuway to reporters after the win.
But Al Ittihad could be in trouble after a stone allegedly thrown from the crowd hit Ahly defender Wael Gomaa on the head, necessitating stitches, according to club officials.
Road draw for Heartland
Heartland FC spent most of Saturday night’s match in Johannesburg against South African champions SuperSport United on the back foot, but a first half goal from Ike ThankGod ensured a 1-1 draw.
Dynamos look to have ended the fairytale run of Gaborone United of Botswana with a 4-1 triumph in Harare, coming from a goal behind. “With the opportunities we got, we could have scored more than seven but I’m glad we are going to carry a healthy lead into the second leg,” said Dynamos coach Elvis Chiweshe.
Algeria's former African champions JS Kabylie beat Angolan champions Petro Atletico 2-0 from goals by Tedjar Saad and Aoudia Mohamed Amin. The Angolans were reduced to 10 men when Santana was sent off with four minutes remaining.
The return legs will be played on the weekend of 7-9 May. The winners advance to the league phase while the losers go to the fourth round of the African Confederation Cup.
In Tunis: Esperance (Tunisia) 3-0 Al Merreikh (Sudan)
In Tripoli: Al Ittihad (Libya) 2-0 Al Ahli (Egypt)
In Johannesburg: SuperSport United (South Africa) 1-1 Heartland FC (Nigeria)
In Setif: Entente Setif (Algeria) 1-0 Zanaco (Zambia)
In Bamako: Djoliba (Mali) 0-1 TP Mazembe Englebert (DR Congo)
In Harare: Dynamos (Zimbabwe) 4-1 Gaborone United (Botswana)
In Khartoum: Al Hilal (Sudan) 0-1 Ismaili (Egypt)
In Tizi-Ouzou: JS Kabylie (Algeria) 2-0 Petro Atletico (Angola)