Draws all round as group stage begins
© AFP

There were no winners on the opening weekend of the group phase of this year’s CAF Champions League with all four matches drawn, but there was certainly no lack of action in Africa’s top club competition.

Top contenders Al Ahly of Egypt, Enyimba of Nigeria and the Moroccans Raja Casablanca will feel disappointed with dropping potentially vital home points. In contrast, the likes of Wydad Casablanca, Coton Sport of Cameroon and Sudan’s Al Hilal sent out clear messages of intent with strong performances away from home.

No result was more surprising than in Group B, where Wydad - even though they have been off for two months since the end of the last Moroccan league season and were playing their first competitive match back for the new campaign - drew 3-3 in a thrilling draw at record title holders Ahly. The group had opened 24 hours earlier in Algiers with a 1-1 tie between hosts Mouloudia Alger and Esperance of Tunisia.

Equally as impressive was a double from Edward Sadomba, the Zimbabwe goal scoring ace at Al Hilal in Sudan, who again proved his worth in a 2-2 away draw at Enyimba on Saturday. And Coton Sport, who only last weekend again won the Elite One title, celebrated domestic success by flying to far-away Morocco and holding three-time African champions Raja to a 0-0 draw.

A pair of pairs
Wydad scored in the first and last minute at Military Academy Stadium as an own-goal from Sherif Abdelfadil gave the visitors the perfect start in the last of the weekend’s games late on Sunday night, but Ahly replied almost instantly through Emad Moteab.

However, a clumsy handball midway through the half presented veteran centre back Wael Gomaa with the chance to put Ahly ahead from the spot, which he duly did in the 22nd minute. Mouhssine Iajour then scored on the hour mark to make it 2-2 but that lasted just a quarter-hour as Ahly went back ahead on the scoreboard, this time through the attacking strength of Mauritania international Dominique da Silva.

But Iajour was not yet finished and equalised again in the last minute, robbing Abdelfadil of the ball to send the home crowd on their way from the stadium grumbling with frustration at the team’s mistakes. The match marked a successful start in his first game in charge for Wydad’s veteran new Swiss coach Michel Decastel, who is just a month into his new charge job led Ahly’s rivals Zamalek previously.

Iajour of Wydad’s brace was matched by Sadomba in Group A for Al Hilal. The Sudanese club’s coach, Milutin Sredojevich, had spoken of the need for self belief from his players before the game at Enyimba and, even though they were on the back foot from the opening whistle, his side showed patience and discipline.

That strength of will was rewarded when Sadomba went on a mazy 40-yard run past two defenders before he produced a stunning shot from the edge of the box to establish a 23rd-minute lead for the ambitious visitors. Enyimba equalised minutes into the second half through Valentine Nwabili, who hit home a speculative effort, and near the hour mark the Nigerians finally took the lead as Kalu Uche headed home from Peter Onoja’s cross. But Al Hilal produced some more magic in the 77th minute when Hamed Khalifa dribbled his way into the Enyimba penalty area and allowed Sadomba an easy side-foot home for the 2-2 draw.

Introductions start slowly

Group B’s Esperance, who were runners-up in last year’s Champions League, also took an early lead on the road in Algiers, scoring after just seven minutes through Oussama Darragi. But a headed equaliser for Mouloudia came from Mohamed Megherbi just ten minutes later as the Algerian club marked their first outing in the Champions League group stage of the competition, since it was first introduced in 1997.

Raja were playing their first match since the end of May and the subsequent departure of coach Mhamed Fakhir, replaced by Ilie Balaci last week but who had little time to work with his new charges. As a result, Raja were not as sharp as they needed to be and wasted several chances as they drew 0-0 with Coton Sport in Casablanca.