Semi-final race blown wide open
© AFP

The form book was thrown out of the window at the weekend as the race for semi-final places in the CAF Champions League was blown wide open by a series of surprise results.

All but one of the favourites failed in their latest encounters, setting up the prospect of a thrilling finish to determine the identity of this year's last four. Only Egyptian giants Al Ahly were able to prove the pundits correct, winning away in Zimbabwe to all but seal their place.

However, the identity of the three sides to join them will, in all likelihood, only be known at the end of September when the group phase concludes. This is after the unlikely combination of victories for ASEC Abidjan, Coton Sport and TP Mazembe Englebert, a trio of wins that left the standings wide open.

Both ASEC and Mazembe won their first games of the group campaign with an identical margin of victory, while Coton Sport left it late again before grabbing top spot in Group B with an impressive 1-0 triumph at the highly-rated Al Hilal of Sudan. There are, however, just three points between first and last in Group B, underlining the potential for a pulsating finish.

Ousmailia Baba scored just after the hour-mark to see Coton Sport home against Al Hilal in Garoua on Saturday, a fortnight after they had forced a goalless draw in Sudan. "It's really put us in a good position," claimed their new coach, Alain Ouombleon. "We have it in our hands, we need now to try and keep up the consistency of gathering more points."

Ouombleon only took over in July after the abrupt departure of Coton Sports' previous French coach Denis Lavagne. However, despite the change of personnel and the fact their domestic season has ended, the Cameroonians have been battling above the odds.

Their position at the helm of Group B was helped by Mazembe's thumping of an under-strength Enyimba in Lubumbashi on Sunday. Mazembe overwhelmed their Nigerian visitors 3-0, having failed to score in their three previous matches. Mazembe remain bottom of the group standings but are now revitalised after Luyeye Mvete, Tresor Mputu (penalty) and Patou Kabangu all scored at the Kenya stadium.

In Group A, ASEC Abidjan jumped into second spot, albeit five points behind Al Ahly. ASEC's 3-0 win over Zamalek was secured by goals from Moussa Guindo and substitutes Valy Sinali Bamba and Antoine Gossan Gossan, the latter of whom added the third from the penalty spot with 10 minutes remaining.

In a fortnight's time, on the weekend of 12 to 14 September, the penultimate round of group matches is scheduled, including the Cairo derby between Al Ahly and Zamalek.