Famous names bow out

Like a tornado unleashing havoc along its path, so the field in the CAF Champions League was devastated at the weekend with a host of prestigious casualties following the conclusion of the third round, second leg matches.

The biggest name to fall was undoubtedly defending champions Al Ahly, who were denied the prestige of a record-breaking five successive appearances in the final as they were eliminated at the hands of Kano Pillars on the away goals rule. A Nigerian side also claimed last year's runners-up Coton Sport of Cameroon, as they were unable to pull back a one goal deficit from the first leg of their tie against Heartland FC.

Cote d'Ivoire's perennial challengers ASEC Abidjan, were also denied the chance to make a record tenth appearance in the group phase of Africa's top club competition as they were knocked out by Monomotapa.

The series of shock results means there will be five newcomers in the field for Thursday's draw when the two groups are decided. The two Nigerian sides are joined by Al Merreikh of Sudan and Zesco United, the first club from Zambia to make the league phase since the new format was introduced by CAF in 1997.

Of last year's final eight, only Al Hilal of Sudan and previous winners TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo are making a return. It means that 2007 winners Etoile Sahel now emerge as the favourites in arguably the most open field in the competition to date.

Etoile had their own upset early elimination in the third round last year in the defence of their CAF Champions League title, but there were no such problems at the weekend as they brushed aside the challenge of Libya's Al Ahli Tripoli with goals from Sadat Bukari and Ammar Jemal.

However, it was a close run thing for both Al Hilal and Mazembe, who have high hopes of success given the inexperienced field they will be up against when the group phase gets underway in June. Al Hilal needed the away goals rule to overcome Primeiro Agosto of Angola after winning 2-0 in Khartoum on Sunday night with goals from Mohamed Taher (penalty) and Congolese import Blaise Mbele. Mazembe held out for a goalless draw in Morocco against Ittihad to ensure they held onto their slender 1-0 lead from the first leg in Lubumbashi.

The weekend's glory undoubtedly belonged to the unfancied sides, notably Pillars and Monomotapa. The Nigerians were not given much chance after failing to beat Al Ahly at home in the first leg but caught the Cairo club in complacent mood in the Egyptian capital.

Two goals from the Nigerians suddenly turned the tie on its head, stunning the local fans, and left Al Ahly having to score three of their own in the final 20 minutes. To their credit, the holders made a good effort of the task with goals from Flavio and Mohamed Barakat but despite an extended period of additional time added on at the end of the game, the illusive third did not come.

Coton Sport were 2-1 down from the first leg of their tie at Heartland FC and were expected to turn around the deficit, especially when last year's finalists scored an away goal. But Thankgod Ike's 40th minute effort extended Heartlands' lead in Garoua and effectively set Coton Sport the target of three goals to win the tie, which they failed to achieve. Salif Keita's equaliser on the stroke of half-time threatened the possibility of a comeback but the Nigerians defended well for the rest of the game.

Monomotapa, a team who only gained Premier League status in Zimbabwe in 2005 were 1-0 down from the first leg of their match in Abidjan. It took them just five minutes to achieve parity as Charles Chitusa scored, but the drama was saved for the climax when Monomotapa snatched an injury time winner, with Daniel Kamunenga ensuring a famous triumph.

Meanwhile, Zesco United's coach Fighton Simukonda was unable to give an intelligible comment on Saturday after his side's progress at the expense of Djoliba of Mali. "I'm too excited to say anything," he told bemused reporters after his team's 2-1 win.

CAF Champions League
Third round, second leg

Monomotapa 2-0 ASEC Abidjan (Monomotapa win 2-1 on aggregate)
Al Hilal 2-0 Primeiro Agosto (Al Hilal win on away goals)
Al Ahly 2-2 Kano Pillars (Kano Pillars win on away goals)
Coton Sport 1-1 Heartland FC (Heartland FC win 3-2 on aggregate)
Al Merreikh 1-1 Kampala City Council (Al Merreikh win 2-1 on aggregate)
Ittihad Khemisset 0-0 TP Mazembe Englebert (TP Mazembe Englebert win 1-0 on aggregate)
Zesco United 2-1 Djoliba (Zesco United win 2-1 on aggregate)
Etoile Sahel 2-0 Al Ahli Tripoli (Etoile Sahel win 2-0 on aggregate)