After Orlando Pirates won 3-0 at Al Ahly, coach Roger de Sa said that he expected Group A in the CAF Champions League to go down to the wire. It is something that he possibly forgot to tell his players as they took control of their group on matchday three, and they can now secure a semi-final berth in a fortnight's time with two matches to play. The winners of the two groups and the second-placed teams will advance to the semi-finals, with the champions earning the right to represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year in Morocco.
Game of the week
AC Leopards 0-1 Al Ahly
Having seen their run of 23 matches unbeaten at home in the group phase of the competition ended on the last matchday by Orlando Pirates, the pressure was on the defending champions Al Ahly to secure a win to stay in the Group A reckoning. Their task was always going to be difficult as they were away to AC Leopards, who themselves were on a 11-match unbeaten run at home in continental competitions. The Dolisie-based side were the stronger in the first half but failed to convert their chances, and they were made to rue their poor finishing as Walid Soliman gave the Red Devils the lead four minutes from the break. Leopards continued pushing forward in the second half, but the Al Ahly defence stood firm to give the defending champions their first win in the group phase.
Orlando Pirates 4-1 Zamalek
The result of the Pirates second home match in the competition was not so much a surprise, as was the one-sided scoreline. To grab four goals in the group phase of the Champions League is quite an achievement and to manage it against a club of the stature of five-time continental champions Zamalek makes it even more remarkable. The visitors were holding the Buccaneers to a 1-1 draw going into the break after Shikabala had equalised Lennox Bacela's opening goal, but they were simply outplayed in the second half as Daine Klate, Sifiso Myeni and Tlou Segolela added three more goals to secure a comprehensive victory that sees the South African team top Group A with seven points from their three matches. Al Ahly and AC Leopards have four, while Zamalek are last with one point.
The 2011 champions Esperance secured an important 1-0 victory in Côte d'Ivoire against Sewe Sports. The lone goal came courtesy of midfielder Osama Darragi three minutes into the second half after he had been set up by Youcef Belaili, who went around his marker before pulling the ball back to the Tunisian international, who made no mistake from some ten metres out. The Blood and Gold, however, were under severe pressure after going ahead, and the home side had several good opportunities to grab at least an equaliser. In the other group game, 2008 runners-up Coton Sport beat Recreativo do Libolo 2-1. Both goals for the Cameroonian side were scored after defensive lapses by the Angolan champions. 18-year-old midfielder Alexis Yougouda, who scored Coton's winning goal against Sewe Sports a week ago, opened the scoring in the first half. Emmanuel Mbongo added a second after the break, before Ruben Gouveia pulled one back late in the game for the Angolans. Esperance and Coton top Group A with six points, while Sewe Sports and Recreativo have three each.
Player of the week
Like red wine, goalkeepers are said to become better with age. Esperance keeper Moez Ben Cherifia though is an example that it is not only mature goalkeepers who can excel at the highest level. Although only 22 years old, the Tunisian international has already tasted success at the highest level, having helped Esperance to Champions League glory in 2011, conceding just six goals in the 14 matches they played. Against Sewe Sports, the custodian pulled off three spectacular saves to keep his sheet clean and give Esperance an important victory.
7 – Between them, Zamalek (5) and Al Ahly (7) have won the Champions League 12 times, but the two Cairo giants have conceded a shocking seven goals in two matches against 1995 champions Orlando Pirates. The Buccaneers secured a 3-0 win at Al Ahly on matchday two and followed that up with a 4-1 win against Zamalek.
What they said
"We are the weakest team in the group. When comparing the squads, for example, we compete with only 16 to 18 players while other teams... are more lucky in terms of funds, preparations and management," Zamalek coach Helmi Toulan after his side's away loss.
Have your say
Can Zamalek still turn the tide and garner enough points to advance to the semi-finals and stay in the hunt for a sixth Champions League title?