North African duo smiling after away draws
© AFP

Title holders Esperance and six-time winners Al Ahly are favourites to set up an intriguing African Champions League final after claiming away draws with TP Mazembe and debutantes Sunshine Stars respectively in the first-leg of the competition's semis. Ahly were denied a win by a late Sunshine strike in an exciting 3-3 draw in Nigeria while Esperance held Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo to a goalless stalemate in Lubumbashi.

Game of the week
Sunshine Stars 3-3 Al Ahly
Looking superior in the early stages, record Champions League winners Ahly seemed on course for a comfortable and rare win on the road when they went 2-0 up after 30 minutes, thanks to goals from forward Mohamed ‘Gedo’ Nagy and El-Sayed Hamdi, who was given a rare start by coach Hossam El Badry. However, Sunshine Stars narrowed the gap shortly after when Tamen Medrano made light of a challenge by Ahly defender Wael Gomaa to place a precise curling effort into the top corner. Olorundare Dele brought the hosts level with a 73rd-minute penalty but Sunshine’s celebrations were short-lived after Gedo restored Ahly’s advantage one minute later. The determined Sunshine Stars refused to give up, laying siege to Ahly’s area and repeatedly troubling goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy with a series of accurate long-range shots. Their pressure paid dividends with six minutes remaining when Precious Osasco’s curling free-kick went past the despairing dive of Ekramy as Ahly eventually paid for some sloppy defending throughout the game. The Cairo giants, who have not won a Champions League game outside Egypt since beating Tanzania’s Young Africans in a preliminary-round game in 2009, will be favourites to reach the final when they host Sunshine Stars in the second leg on 21 October.

Other matches
Defending champions Esperance of Tunisia will be content with a scoreless first-leg draw at TP Mazembe, who are usually formidable at home. A cautious first-half saw Esperance successfully close down spaces at the back, restricting Mazembe to some tame efforts. The visitors created the best chance before the break when a low shot from Karim Aouadhi forced a fine save from keeper Muteba Kidiaba, but Mazembe notably improved after the restart. Esperance survived an onslaught that saw Mazembe squander some easy goal-scoring opportunities, including a free header by Ally Samatta which went over the bar and a glaring miss from Ngandu Kasongo, who blasted wide with the goal at his mercy in stoppage time. Mazembe finished with ten men on the field when Sunzu Stoppila was dismissed for a second bookable offence. Esperance thus have the upper hand going into the second leg as they bid to win a second consecutive continental crown.

Player of the Week
Ahly’s ‘Gedo’, best known for steering Egypt to the 2010 CAF African Cup of Nations title after scoring five goals off the bench, successfully spearheaded the team’s attack to make up for the absence of Emad Meteab, who was ruled out of the game due to injury. Gedo scored twice to help Ahly to a 3-3 draw at Sunshine Stars of Nigeria. The unopposed forward opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a delightful shot from the edge of the area and netted his second of the night on 74 minutes with a low shot that went into the bottom corner.

The stat
6 -
Ahly’s game against Sunshine Stars witnessed the highest goal-scoring draw in the semi-final since the Champions League’s last-four round was introduced in 2001.

What they said
“It was a good result for us, given that Mazembe are very strong at home. Apart from [Ghanaian side] Berekum Chelsea, all teams have lost in Congo. If Mazembe succeeded in breaking the deadlock, they would have added another goal.” Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul.

Have your say
Who are the two teams who will appear in November’s two-legged final?