Esperance of Tunisia and Cotonsport Garoua of Cameroon collected precious away points this weekend as the CAF Champions League group phase kicked off. Midfielder Oussama Darragi gave Esperance an early lead against Mouloudia Alger of Algeria in a Group B clash of former title holders and defender Mohamed Meghirbi levelled nine minutes later. Cotonsport overcame the absence of three suspended stars and having a player red-carded 13 minutes from full-time to force a 0-0 Group A draw at three-time champions Raja Casablanca of Morocco.
Casablanca supply two of the eight contenders for the title and a place at the end-of-year FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, with Wydad away to record six-time African champions Al-Ahly of Egypt late on Sunday. This fixture will be staged behind closed doors after crowd trouble at the Cairo Stadium during a qualifier against Zambians ZESCO United resulted in one visiting footballer having to retire injured when struck by a flare.
Nigerian club Enyimba - one of just three clubs to successfully defend the Champions League title - host twice runners-up Al-Hilal from Sudan a few hours before Ahly and 1992 title holders Wydad do battle. Esperance, who have won all the Pan-African competitions except the Confederation Cup, lived up to expectations that they will reach the semi-finals from Group B with the 'Red Devils' of Ahly.
Darragi ranks among the best young midfielders on the continent, having already made numerous appearances for Tunisia at senior level, and it came as no surprise that he scored in Algiers given his fondness for goals. Mouloudia conquered Africa 35 years ago after wiping out a three-goal, first-leg lead built by Hafia in Guinea, but the current squad does not appear capable of bringing the trophy back to the North African country. They dodged relegation from the national league by a solitary point after forcing a last-round goalless draw on the road and faced Esperance soon after coach Noureddine Zekri quit.
After scoring eight goals at home to oust Real Bangui of Central African Republic, Dynamos of Zimbabwe and InterClube of Angola in qualifiers, they struggled to create openings against the 1994 African champions.
A Cotonsport side coached by Frenchman Denis Lavagne will be thrilled to take a point home from Morocco as they appeared weaker than Raja, Enyimba or Hilal and were depleted by Ndzana Kana, Mbongo Ewangue and Lassina Karim not being available.