Esperance headline with comeback win
© AFP

At the halfway stage of the group phase of the CAF Champions League both groups remain evenly poised as all eight teams remaining in the competition have kept their chances of making it through to the semi-finals alive. Tunisian club Esperance, who have been in three finals in the last four years, came from behind to beat local rivals CS Sfaxien to secure their first points. The winner of the competition will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco at the end of the year.

Match of the week
TP Mazembe 1-0 Zamalek
Between them, TP Mazembe and Zamalek have won the Champions League nine times, with the Egyptian club having won one more than the club from the DR Congo. Going into their game, the teams knew that a win for either side would take them to the top of Group A after the other two clubs in the group – Al Hilal and Vita Club – drew their third game in the group phase. Zambian international Rainford Kalaba gave the home side an early lead, when he managed to find the net from close range after being set up by Ghanaian Solomon Asante. Mazembe had a few chances to add to their score, but both Asante and Kalaba failed to convert. This, in turn, allowed the White Knights to push forward in the final 20 minutes in search of an equaliser. But try as they might, the visitors could not stop the home side from going top on six points, while Zamalek are bottom with three. Their coach Mido said that he still believed the team could go through. “Mazembe is a strong team, especially when they play at home. We played well, but we weren't a tough opponent for them. We still have three matches in the group stage, two of them at home. Getting a positive result in all of them guarantees us a place in the semi-final," he said.

Other matches
In the other Group A game Lema Mabidi gave visiting Vita Club a 1-1 draw at Sudanese club Al Hilal with a penalty two minutes from the end. Brazilian Sergio Junior opened the scoring for the home side in Khartoum in the first half before a sandstorm and accidents in the stadium caused the game to be stopped for some 30 minutes. The draw took the two clubs to four points each.

New coach Sebastien Desabre, meanwhile, got his Champions League campaign with Esperance off to a winning start as the Blood and Gold came from behind to beat local rivals CS Sfaxien 2-1. After losing their two opening games, the pressure was on and it only increased after Maher Hannachi gave Sfaxien the lead shortly after the break, but Oussama Darragi levelled matters in the 64th minute and a few minutes later Edriss Mhirssi found the winner. Also in Group B, ES Setif, who beat Esperance in their opening game, were held at home by Libyan club Al Ahly Benghazi, who snatched a 1-1 draw with an injury-time penalty converted by midfielder Abdelrahman Fetori. Striker Rachid Nadji gave Setif the lead shortly before the break after intercepting a Jabson Solomon pass, and they should have added a second after the break, but they allowed Al Ahly the opportunity to come back, which they did with a penalty awarded for a handball right at the end. Setif top the group on five points, one more than Al Ahly and Sfaxien, while Esperance are on three points.

Player of the week
Rainford Kalaba is one of several Zambian international players who have been lured to the DR Congo by big-spending TP Mazembe in their attempt to break the North African dominance of the Champions League. The 27-year-old midfielder, who spent time in the Portuguese league, achieved his biggest success with his national team in 2012 when he helped the Chipolopolo to CAF Africa Cup of Nations glory. Kalaba scored the goal on the weekend to give Mazembe an important 1-0 victory against five-time champions Zamalek, which took the Ravens to the top of Group A on six points from their three matches – two more than local rivals Vita Club and Al Hilal.

The stat
22 –
The number of matches four-time champions TP Mazembe have gone without losing at home in the Champions League. They have not lost since 2009, when they were beaten by Al Hilal, and their victory against Zamalek on the weekend was their 19th victory, against only three draws.

What they said
"After going a goal behind, we made a few tactical changes and that allowed us to come back. Our destiny is in our hands. We will try to prepare properly and with the utmost care for our next three games, playing for victory each time," Sebastien Desabre, who was in charge of Esperance for the first time in the Champions League and saw his side pick up their first points in the group stage.

Have your say
Could this be the first year that the final of the showpiece event of African club football is contested between two clubs from the same country?