Red cards mark first round climax

An elongated first round of the CAF Champions League came to a fiery end at the weekend with three players red carded as 2008 runners-up Cotonsport Garoua of Cameroon squeezed through. Cotonsport qualified to meet V Club from Congo DR on away goals after being held 1-1 at Omnisport Stadium by unfancied Burundian outfit Vital'O following a 2-2 first-leg stalemate.

Jacques Haman put the home team ahead on 25 minutes and substitute Alain Ndizeye levelled early in the second half for the visitors, who delayed the kick-off by 24 hours after an unexplained late arrival. The home team played much of the second half a man short when substitute Oyonga Bitolo got his marching orders soon after replacing Baba Ousmaila and Ndizeye was red carded in the closing stages. Ndizeye initially refused to leave the pitch and amid the confusion a second Vital'O footballer was ordered off in the north-west city where temperatures often soar to the mid-30s celsius.

African Nations Championship call-ups meant the traditional 17 days needed to complete a two-leg round stretched to 38 and US Bitam of Gabon, Djoliba of Mali and Club Africain of Tunisia were other late qualifiers.

Bitam forced a 0-0 draw with Astres Douala of Cameroon in Atlantic city Douala and won 5-3 on penalties with Serge Beh Za'a converting the crucial kick after Bebey Kingue missed the first taken by the local club. A rare success for Gabon in the premier Pan-African club competition set up Bitam to face 2003 and 2004 champions Enyimba of Nigeria in the second round starting this month.

Djoliba repeated their 2-0 Freetown triumph when they hosted East End Lions of Sierra Leone at Modibo Keita Stadium in Bamako with Ousmane Cisse scoring after 32 minutes and Amadou Karambe added a late second.

Competitive football returned to Tunisia after a 53-day delay caused by the recent political unrest and Club Africain overwhelmed Rwandan visitors APR 4-0 on the outskirts of Tunis. Bilal Iffa put Club ahead in the game and on aggregate after a drawn first leg when he scored on 18 minutes and Wissem Ben Yahia, Chadian Ezechiel Ndouassel and Youssef Mouihbi were on target in the second half.

Diaraf of Senegal are next up for Djoliba while Club Africain face five-time African champions Zamalek of Egypt in the major attraction of the 16-fixture second phase.