Algerian international Billel Dziri has been one of the perennial figures on the African football scene over the last decade, his spindly frame, constant running and bald pate are instantly recognizable wherever he plays.

The veteran midfielder, who turned 35 on 21 January, continues to prove his longevity, the latest evidence coming at the weekend at the start of yet another CAF Champions League campaign. For Dziri, it is his seventh, and possibly last, attempt to win a trophy which has narrowly eluded him in the past.

He scored late in the game on Saturday as his club USM Alger began their bid for the 2007 crown with a 3-1 home win over AS FNIS of Niger in their first round, first leg tie.

A decade ago, when the league format of the competition was first introduced, Dziri scored as well, two goals in fact as USMA began their campaign with a 6-1 win over Desportivo Travadores of the Cape Verde Islands. USMA went on to qualify for the group phase and finish runners-up, second on goal difference only to Morocco's Raja Casablanca, who qualified for the final and won the tournament.

The next year, he moved to Etoile Sahel in Tunisia where again there was heartbreak as his side finished one point behind group winners Dynamos of Zimbabwe and again narrowly missed out on the finals.

From Tunisia, Dziri spent time in France's Ligue 1 with Sedan before returning home in 2003 in time to help USM Alger to the semi-finals of the competition where a last minute goal saw them defeated by Nigeria's Enyimba. In 2004, USMA were again in the group phase but finished third, out of the running for a semi-final place, and 12 months later they had the misfortune of running into Al Ahly of Egypt, narrowly losing on aggregate.

Last year USMA had a dreadful campaign, knocked out in the early stages by Port Autonome of Senegal on the away goals rule, but with time running out on his career, Dziri has embarked successfully on another tilt at Africa's top club prize. 

Favourites impress
USMA were not the only one of the heavyweight contenders to cruise to comfortable wins in their first-leg ties at the weekend.

Five time champions Zamalek of Egypt, former winners Esperance, Wydad Casablanca and JS Kabylie and former runners-up Al Hilal and Mamelodi Sundowns were also all among the weekend winners.

Venezuela's Jose Torrealba joined a small list of South Americans to have featured in the Champions League, but went one better with a hat trick for Sundowns as they beat Royal Leopards from Swaziland 4-2 in a gritty tie at the Super Stadium in Atteridgeville, on the outskirts of Pretoria.

Wydad Casablanca used their new Argentine signing Claudio Ortiz as a second half substitute as they awoke from a first half slumber to score four times in the second period in beating ASC Mauritel of Mauritania at home on Sunday.

There was a hat trick for Amine Ltifi, top goalscorer in the Tunisian league last season. He scored all three inside 47 minutes for Esperance as they defeated Renaissance of Chad 4-0 in Tunis on Friday in the opening game of this year's competition.

Young Africans of Tanzania registered the biggest victory at the weekend a 5-1 win demolition of ASGM 5-1 in Dar-es-Salaam. The win ensured their progress through to the next round because the tie is played over one leg, due to the lack of a stadium facility in the Comoros, Africa's newest footballing nation.