A's leaders OK, B a battle
© AFP

The campaign for CAF Champions League semi-final places reached the halfway mark with one of the top two groups seemingly settled and the other evolving into a three-team race.

Record winners Al Ahly kept alive their chances after registering their first Group B win while the top-of-table clash between Wydad Casablanca and Esperance produced a thrilling 2-2 draw.

In Group A, Enyimba of Nigeria and Al Hilal of Sudan have opened up a six-point lead through three matches and effectively need one more win each from their remaining three games to book a place in the final four. Enyimba beat Raja Casablanca 2-0 on Sunday, followed a few hours later by a 2-1 come-from-behind success for Al Hilal over Coton Sport of Cameroon.

Coton Sport and Raja still have only a single point each in the group, as is the case for Mouloudia Alger in Group B. The Algerian side lost 2-0 on Friday in Cairo as Al Ahly moved to four points, one behind Wydad and Esperance.

But we are going to work hard on our weaknesses, and the match in Morocco will be a different game.
Raja coach Balaci Ilie on Enyimba's upcoming trip to Casablanca

Emad Moteab, who has proven to be a talisman for the club many times in the past, scored twice in the first half to settle the game and leave the Algerians floundering. Mohamed Aboutrika set up the first goal in the tenth minute and Ahmed Fathi combined with Moteab for the second. New Brazilian signing Fabio Junior made a second half debut as a substitute for the Egyptian giants but failed to make an impact in the final ten minutes.

Coach Manuel Jose said he was happy with his side's defence, including teenager Ramy Rabiaa, but not too pleased with the team's overall performance. “We squandered a lot of scoring chances that could have doubled our tally," he said.

Dramatic battle between leaders
Wydad Casablanca still lead Group B on goal difference but the momentum is with Esperance after holding their hosts 2-2 in Casablanca late on Sunday night. The Tunisians will feel they should have come away with a rare away win after going two goals up before Wydad staged a second half comeback.

Esperance dominated the first half and goals from Wajdi Bouazzi and Walid Hichri gave them a deserved lead at the interval, only for Wydad to come back with goals from Fabrice Ondaza Nguessi and a penalty from Youssef El Kaddioui – his third for the club since signing last month from Royal Armed Forces (FAR Rabat). The hosts even might even have snatched a late winner as Esperance’s traveling supporters sat stunned at the turn around.

Home wins for Al Hilal and Enyimba moved them to seven points at the helm of Group A. Enyimba lead on goal difference after Uche Kalu and Chidozie Johnson scored inside the first 25 minutes to secure a straightforward 2-0 win over Raja Casablanca. Kalu’s goal, his fourth in three group matches, came after just nine minutes and set the tone for home dominance and was followed by Johnson’s effort some 16 minutes later. Raja squandered a second half penalty when veteran Bouchaib El Moubaraki steered his shot wide.

Raja’s new coach Balaci Ilie reflected on his team’s defeat after the match, which means they must win the return match in two week’s time to have any chance of reaching the semi-finals. “Enyimba can feel good today because they have won the match,” said Ilie. “But we are going to work hard on our weaknesses, and the match in Morocco will be a different game. We will only get better.”

Coton Sport took the lead in Khartoum against Al Hilal after just ten minutes with a goal from Madila Mfoutou but were on the back foot just a quarter-hour later when Louis Ewonde Epassi received his marching orders for a second yellow card for bringing down Zimbabwe striker Edward Sadomba in the box.

Haitham Mostafa equalised a minute later from the resulting penalty kick, and Al Hilal’s winner came only nine minutes from the end from Cameroon under-23 international Ene Edet Otudor Otobong, who recently joined from Al Ittihad in Egypt, and whose goal against his compatriots was his first since moving in June.

The fourth round of group matches will be played on the last weekend of August when some of the semi-final qualifiers may be determined.