Some big names in African football joined the action in the CAF Champions League with eight clubs, handed byes in the first round, thrust into the heart of the action in first leg ties at the weekend.

There were irresistible starts from Esperance of Tunisia and Zimbabwe’s ever-improving Dynamos, but a more muted attack from defending champions TP Mazembe Englebert of Congo DR, Al Ahly of Egypt and Algeria’s Entente Setif, who are chasing the continent’s top title this year in a bid to add to their only previous success in 1988.

Giants do the business
Mazembe won as they began a bid for an unprecedented third successive Champions League by beating Simba SC of Tanzania 3-1 in Lubumbashi yesterday. Goals from Patou Kabungu and Narcisse Ekanga had Mazembe cruising after just 20 minutes, and Alain Kaluyituka picked up where he left off in last year’s competition with a third goal on the hour. But a penalty converted by Emmanuel Okwi gave Simba a potentially valuable away goal and hope for the second leg.

Al Ahly got the weekend’s action started with a 2-0 triumph over SuperSport United, making it six back-to-back home wins over South African opposition in the continents premier competition. The six-time champions showed few signs of rust even though they had been without a competitive game since football in Egypt was shut down in the wake of the political unrest earlier this year. A goal just three minutes after kick-off on Friday from Osama Hosni proved the perfect antidote to shake off any perceived lethargy, and a second goal from Mauritania international Dominiuque da Silva, late on in the game, ensured some breathing space for the return leg next month.

Entente Setif also scored twice against ASFA Yennega of Burkina Faso, but will be concerned about a potentially tough return match in a fortnight. A side without those worries would appear to be Esperance, who hammered five goals past ASPAC FC of Benin despite playing behind closed doors due to the security situation in Tunisia.

Most impressive was the four goals that Zimbabwe’s Dynamos, who reached the group stage of the competition last year, produced against Mouloudia Alger on the artificial surface at Harare’s Rufaro Stadium yesterday. It proved a dynamic performance from Dynamos, whose nerves were settled by the awarding of an early penalty, converted by Guthrie Zhokinyi. New signing Roderick Mtuma, followed by Denver Mukamba and Farai Vimisayi then added three more before Mouloudia got a late consolation from the penalty spot.

Four by Africain, Ivorians nip one
Things did not go as well for Zamalek, who are one of 12 former winners in this year’s field, as they conceded four goals away on Sunday at Club Africain of Tunisia, themselves once African champions. The Cairo giants, who have five Champions League trophies, did manage two away goals of their own to leave hope for the second leg, but they face an ignominiously early exit.

There is already a place in the third round for ASEC Abidjan, who benefited from the security situation in Côte d’Ivoire to go through to the final 16 of the competition - the last knockout round before the group stage. ASEC were told at the start of the week they would not be playing the second leg at home to Motor Action of Zimbabwe because of the civil unrest, with CAF evoking regulations to allow the ordering of just a single tie in the case of political uncertainty and concern over the safety of visiting players. And so ASEC’s game in Harare went from being the first leg to a decisive one-off encounter.

Goalkeeper Daniel Yeboah made some fine stops for ASEC to keep their hosts at bay in the first half, but he had less to do as the game wore on. The contest concluded eventually in a penalty shoot-out where Yeboah was again outstanding and Jean-Michel Seri tucked away the winning kick for ASEC to triumph 4-2 and eliminate the Zimbabwean rookies. CAF’s ruling also impacts of Jeunesse Club Abidjan and Al Ittihad of Libya, who have been drawn against each other but cannot play at home. They will meet on the weekend of 1-3 April, which is also when the second legs will be contested, at a mutually agreed neutral venue.

Al Ahly (Egypt) 2-0 SuperSport United (South Africa)
Entente Setif (Algeria) 2-0 ASFA Yennega (Burkina Faso)
US Bitam (Gabon) 0-0 Enyimba (Nigeria)
Stade Malien (Mali) 2-1 Raja Casablanca (Morocco)
Al Merreikh (Sudan) 2-0 InterClube (Angola)
Esperance (Tunisia) 5-0 ASPAC FC (Benin)
Zesco United (Zambia) 5-0 Young Buffaloes (Swaziland)
Motor Action (Zimbabwe) 0-0 ASEC Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) – ASEC won 4-2 on post-match penalties and advance to the next round from a single tie ordered by CAF because of the security situation in the Côte d’Ivoire.
AS V Club (DR Congo) 0-1 Coton Sport (Cameroon)
TP Mazembe (DR Congo, holders) 3-1 Simba SC (Tanzania)
Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) 2-0 Kano Pillars (Nigeria)
Diaraf Dakar (Senegal) 3-0 Djoliba (Mali)
Al Hilal (Sudan) 3-0 Recreativo Caala (Angola)
Club Africain (Tunisia) 4-2 Zamalek (Egypt)
Dynamos (Zimbabwe) 4-1 Mouloudia Alger (Algeria)
Al Ittihad (Libya) - Jeunesse Club Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) - postponed