Group stage starts with shocks
© AFP

Visiting teams found the going tough in the CAF Champions league as the eight remaining teams in the competition played their first matches in the group phase. Three of the four home sides recorded victories as previous winners Zamalek, Esperance and TP Mazembe slumped to defeats. They were joined by Libyan club Al Ahly Benghazi, who stunned the defending champions Al Ahly from Cairo in the previous round. The winner of the competition will represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year in Morocco.

Match of the week
Vita Club 2 -1 Zamalek
After Cairo giants Al Ahly were bundled out of the competition in the second round, hopes are resting on their city rivals Zamalek to keep the Egyptian flag flying high. They were brought down to earth in Kinshasa as Vita Club won their Group A game 2-1 in front of just 5,000 fans after officials had restricted the number of spectators following a stadium disaster in the domestic league. The home side had the better start and were ahead midway through the first half when Ndombe Mubele found the back of the net. Moamen Zakaria thought he had given the White Knights a share of the spoils with an equaliser with some 14 minutes to go, but Emmanuel Ngudikama found a late winner for Vita Club. The two goals were the first Zamalek have conceded in the competition so far this year.

Other matches
In the other Group A game, two-time finalists Al Hilal, whose record in the competition includes three previous semi-final appearances – the last one in 2011 – also got their campaign off to a winning start as Salah Ibrahim scored the only goal of the match shortly after the restart to give the Sudanese club a 1-0 victory against TP Mazembe, who are chasing a fifth continental title. The goal spurred the Congo DR visitors into life, but try as they did, they failed to find a way through the Hilal defence and returned to Lubumbashi without any points. Mazembe coach Patrice Carteron praised the home side but admitted his team were poor. “Our opponents deserved their success. We were just not at our best. I think we played 30 per cent of our potential, it was too insufficient to bring a result.”

In Group B, Esperance, who have been in three finals and four semi-finals in the past four years, slumped to a disappointing home defeat against Algerian club ES Setif. The 2-1 loss was only the second group game the Blood and Gold have lost at home in the group phase since 2005. Rachid Nadji and El Hedi Belameiri scored for the visitors, while Edriss Mhirsi reduced the deficit in the second half. The other Tunisian club in the competition – CS Sfaxien – got off to a winning start as they beat Al Ahly Benghazi 3-1. Tunisian international Taha Khenissi gave the home side an early lead. Bassem Boulaabi levelled matters with an own goal midway through the first half, but Mahmoud Ben Salah put Sfaxien into the lead again. With the Libyan visitors pressing hard for a second, substitute Ghazi Chellouf put matters beyond doubt with a late third goal for the home side.

Player of the week
Ahead of TP Mazembe's game in the Khartoum Stadium against Al Hilal, Mazembe's Zambian international Jonas Sakuwaha said that it would be tough taking on the Sudanese club in their own back yard. His words were to prove prophetic as the home side opened their group stage campaign with a good 1-0 victory against the four-time champions. The match winner for the Omdurman-based club was midfielder Salah Ibrahim, whose header in the 50th minute decided the game. The 28-year-old also plays for Sudan and starred for the Falcons of Jediane in the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign.

The stat
9 -
The number of years since Esperance Tunis last lost a home game in the group phase of the Champions League. In that year the Tunisians were beaten 2-1 by Cairo giants Zamalek in their second match in the group stage. Since then, the Blood and Gold have won 11 and drawn five.

What they said
"It was a very good performance. We came with the intention to win and we did just that. Now, our ambitions are great, and we hope to go as far as possible and reach the final," ES Setif midfielder El Hedi Belameiri said after his side beat Esperance in Tunis.

Have your say
Can Al Hilal build on their great start to the competition and qualify for their third final in the showpiece event of African football. The Sudanese club reached the 1987 and 1992 finals, losing both 2-0 on aggregate.