Tunisian champions Esperance topped Group A with 13 points after an Oussama Darraji strike earned them an away win over Dynamos of Zimbabwe. Consigned to runners-up spot in the section were defending champions TP Mazembe, who could only manage a goalless draw away to Algeria’s ES Setif.
Although already out of the running for a top-two finish and semi-final berth before the final round of group games, Setif’s battling draw ensured they finished third on six points ahead of last-placed Dynamos, who garnered just three points from their six group games.
The top two berths had also been settled in Group B ahead of the weekend’s matches, where there was only pride to play. The shock of the day was provided by Egypt’s Ismaily who downed compatriots Al Ahly 4-2 at home. In mitigation, the Red Devils did travel to Ismalia without a host of first-team players, knowing their place in the semis had already been assured, although that is to take nothing away from their fellow countrymen, who secured third place in the group with the win.
Bottom of Group B were Nigerian side Heartland, who also finished on a positive note after drawing 1-1 with Algerians JS Kabylie. The latter topped the section with 14 points and were the only team to reach the last four without tasting defeat in the group stage.
After his side’s reverse, Al Ahly assistant coach Alaa Mayhoub said he had not expected to lose so emphatically but claimed that other priorities had held sway. “Our main aim was to rest some of the first-team players and give a chance to others on the fringe, and that’s what we did," he explained. "We’ve also benefitted from watching the defensive mistakes we made, which hopefully we can avoid in the latter stages of this competition.”
The final group standings mean Esperance will face off against Al Ahly in the first semi-final. The two sides last crossed swords at this stage in 2001, a meeting the Cairo side have fond memories of. On that occasion both legs were drawn but the Egyptians went through on the away-goals rule and subsequently beat South African outfit Mamelodi Sundowns to claim the title.
In the other half of the draw, JS Kabylie find themselves in the last four for the first time since 1996 and will square off against TP Mazembe of Congo DPR, the only non-Arab team left in the competition. The three-strong north-African contingent will be hoping to resume their region’s dominance of the competition, following four successive titles between 2005 and 2008 – three for Al Ahly and the other for Tunisia’s Etoile Sahel.
The first legs of the semi-finals will be played between 1-3 October with the return fixtures two weeks later.
Dynamos 0-1 Esperance
ES Setif 0-0 TP Mazembe
Ismaily 4-2 Al Ahly
Heartland 1-1 JS Kabylie