Enyimba qualify, Esperance edge closer
© AFP

Nigeria’s Enyimba will be in the last four of the 2011 CAF Champions League after a win in the penultimate round of the group stage that takes them a step closer to November’s continental final. The Aba-based Enyimba handed Al Hilal of Sudan their first home loss of this year’s event and clinched top spot in Group A.

Last year's runners-up, Esperance, meanwhile, are on nine points from their five matches after edging closer to a place in the semi-finals with a 4-0 win over MC Alger. Yannick Ndjeng proved to be too much for the now-eliminated Algerians, scoring an impressive hat-trick of breakaway goals. Ndjeng, who was signed from another Algerian club earlier this summer, has immediately paid dividends for the Esperantistes as he also tallied the winner in July’s vital 1-0 triumph over Al Ahly. His two goals before half-time and another near the hour mark were more than enough to see off weary Alger after Tunisia international Mejdi Traore’s early opener.

Still in the hunt for a semi-final spot are Al Ahly and Wydad Casablanca, who drew 1-1 on Sunday evening. The Moroccans have won seven points, one more than the Egyptian giants, who will host Esperance next weekend needing a victory in what is sure to be a full-tilt affair. The table-topping Tunisians, for their part, only require a point to be guaranteed of a spot in the last four.

Top spot held for the People's Elephant
Enyimba, who have won seven points from three away matches in the group stage and have not suffered defeat in five road trips overall, got a last-minute penalty from Samuel Tswanya after Uche Kalu was felled in the box to stun the home crowd in Omdurman with a 2-1 victory. It capped an impressive fightback from the 2003 and 2004 African champions, who went behind to Edward Sadomba’s early goal, but equalised mid-way through the second half thanks to defender Valentine Nwabili.

It was a humid night in Sudan’s largest city, and the hosts came out steaming as the event’s top scorer Sadomba scored his seventh goal of the event with a close-range finish in the opening minutes. It was the Zimbabwean international’s third goal against Enyimba after previously scoring a pair for Hilal in July’s 2-2 draw in Nigeria, and the lack of a second despite good opening pressure was to come back and haunt the hosts. The People’s Elephant have proven themselves rock solid all tournament and they gradually grew to control the match. A profligate miss by captain Haitham Mustafa near the hour mark was punished by Nwabili, who scored from a free-kick to set up the dramatic finish.

The Sudanese have been stuck on seven points for two rounds, allowing Coton Sport to catch them on points and surpass them on head-to-head goal difference. The Cameroonians, who beat Al Hilal 2-0 on the last matchday, eliminated three-time champions Raja Casablanca with another come-from-behind 2-1 win on Saturday. This one was down to a second-half brace from Osmaila Baba, which outdid an early strike from Bouchaib El-Moubarki in Garoua and was no less than the 2008 runners-up deserved after a powerful second half. Enyimba’s four-point lead at the top is unassailable, and they host Coton Sport next weekend, while Al Hilal will try to rebound at Raja, who have played two scoreless home draws in the group stage for their only two points.

Ahly win for another chance
Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul and his Al Ahly counterpart Manuel Jose have already been eyeing the final round match between the two in Cairo next weekend, but the Egyptians would have been eliminated before they got the chance with a loss in Casablanca. However, a stubborn, if occasionally shaky, performance by the six-time champions was enough to cling on in Stade Mohamed V. Their nerves were settled well by striker Mohamed 'Gedo' Nagy, who finished off a well-constructed move built by Sayed Moawad and Mohamed Aboutrika in the 36th minute.

Wydad pushed for a goal after that and found an opening while the visitors were still flat just minutes after half-time. Ayoub Skouma set up the equaliser with a curling free-kick, and Abderrahim Benkajjane was the hero of the moment as he headed past goalkeeper Ahmed Adel. Before the contest, Wydad coach Michel Decastel pointed to his veteran net-minder Nadir Lamyaghri as a vital figure in the match, and the Moroccan international was up to the task with a pair of big saves to maintain the draw in the second half. The visitors ran out of gas as the match progressed, with Wydad’s Mouhssine Iajour missing a sitter for the hosts just after the hour mark and then having a late shot saved off the line by veteran Ahly defender Wael Gomaa.