Sfaxien, Setif qualify, Esperance eliminated
© AFP

Tunisians CS Sfaxien and Algerians Entente Setif secured CAF Champions League semi-finals places this weekend after matchday 5 drama.

Ferjani Sassi scored midway through the second half to give Sfaxien a 1-0 Group B victory over Libyans Al-Ahly Benghazi. Algerian Akram Djahnit and Tunisian Ahmed Akaichi bagged a brace each as Setif and Tunisian visitors Esperance fought out a thrilling 2-2 draw. That result eliminated two-time African champions Esperance from a competition they were among the favourites to win.

Sfaxien have ten points, Setif nine and Esperance and Benghazi four each going into the final matchday in September. First place will be at stake when Sfaxien entertain Setif during the September 22-24 weekend, leaving Esperance and Benghazi to play for pride.

Democratic Republic of Congo outfit TP Mazembe host Sudanese El-Hilal and compatriots Vita are away to Egyptians Zamalek late Sunday in Group A showdowns. Mazembe and Vita are three points ahead of their rivals and victories would give them unassailable advantages with one match remaining.

A second Sfaxien success within 15 days maintained a dream start for former Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria and South Africa coach Philippe Troussier. Nicknamed the 'white witchdoctor' because of successes across Africa, the 59-year-old Frenchman moved last month from China to Mediterranean industrial city Sfax.

Troussier wanted to be closer to his Morocco-based family and the impact of the strict disciplinarian at Sfaxien was immediate. He plotted a key home victory over Esperance and success against Benghazi means the 'Arab Juventus' are one point away from first place and possibly dodging Mazembe in the semi-finals.

Substitute Maher Hannachi set up Sassi to score his first Champions League goal this season with a low shot past Libyan goalkeeper Wisam El-Boudi at Stade Chedli Zouiten in Tunis. Group-stage debutants Benghazi have been forced to play all three home matches in neighbouring Tunisia because of unrest in Libya. The visitors caused the shock of the qualifying phase when they ousted Egyptian giants and defending champions Al-Ahly after home and away triumphs.

Esperance, champions twice, runners-up twice and semi-finalists in the past four Champions League competitions, needed a win at Stade du 8 Mai in Setif to have any chance of survival. And the Blood and Gold made a great start with Akaichi putting them ahead just seven minutes into the opening half.

But Djahnit levelled from a mid-first half penalty and scored again for the Black Eagles five minutes into the second half. Esperance needed at least two goals to avoid elimination, but all they could manage was an Akaichi equaliser 18 minutes from time.