Victory for Egypt’s Al Ahly over last year’s runners-up Heartland FC of Nigeria in Cairo on Sunday completed the line-up for the CAF Champions League semi-finals, one matchday before the group phase comes to a close.
Al Ahly joined JS Kabylie of Algeria in advancing from Group B after the Algerians had already made sure of their progress a fortnight ago. But the famous Cairo club will not finish top of the group after JSK’s 1-0 win over Ismaily on Friday made it four wins out of five and ensured first place.
Holders TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo went through from Group A after a 2-1 home win over Zimbabwe’s Dynamos in Lubumbashi. The victory put Mazembe level at the top of the standings with Tunisia’s Esperance, who also have ten points from five matches. The two sides have both scored eight goals and conceded four.
Esperance’s qualification for the semi-finals was confirmed on Saturday even though the Tunis-based club were held to a 2-2 home draw by Entente Setif of Algeria. Esperance and Mazembe now travel away this weekend in the final group fixtures to determine the final standings. Mazembe are at Entente Setif of Algeria and Esperance have the seemingly easier fixture away against bottom-placed Dynamos of Zimbabwe.
But the incentive to finish first in the group will be tempered by the fact the winner must play Al Ahly in the semi-finals. The runners-up will meet JS Kabylie as their semi-final opponent, a side obviously in form but not with the same formidable reputation as the all-conquering Egyptians.
Esperance were two points ahead of Mazembe before the weekend’s game but were surprisingly held to a draw. Youcef Ghazali put Setif into a surprise early lead, leaving Esperance to fight their way back into the tie. Oussama Darragi equalised just before half-time and the home side looked on their way when Mejdi Traoui netted a second in the 58th minute. But Ghazali was not finished yet and popped up to equalise five minutes before the end.
“We were surprised by the goal we conceded at the beginning of the match,” explained Walid Hichiri, Esperance’s central defender. “But we showed great character to respond. We made two errors and were punished – but that’s what happens in this competition.”
The draw opened the door for TP Mazembe to top the group, which they did through goals from Alain Kaliyituka and Given Singuluma.
“Mazembe were clearly the better side,” conceded Dynamos coach Elvis Chiweshe, who saw substitute Thabani Kamusoko grab a consolation for his team.
The final group matches are played this coming weekend, while the semi-finals will be played over two legs next month.
Saturday 11 September
Esperance 2-2 Setif
Sunday 12 September
TP Mazembe Englebert 2-1 Dynamos
Friday 10 September
JS Kabylie 1-0 Ismaily
Sunday 12 September
Al Ahly 2-1 Heartland