Holders TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo might have lost but there was still a familiar feel to the outcome of the remaining CAF Champions League third round, first leg ties at the weekend.
Mazembe, runners-up at last year’s FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, suffered a rare defeat in the competition in going down 1-0 away at Wydad Casablanca, but they will still be confident of progressing in a fortnight when they host the second leg at their fortress in Lubumbashi. The match was one of five ties played at the weekend, with the three others to be decided next month.
The eight third round winners advance to the group phase, which starts in mid-July. Despite Mazembe's struggles, former winners and perennial contenders should feature prominently in the group stage as Esperance of Tunisia scored five goals at home for the second successive round and Al Ahly of Egypt drew away to take the advantage in their tie with Zesco United of Zambia.
Good news for the north
Moustapha Allaoui’s 18th-minute goal gave Wydad hope in their bid to set up the convincing home win they felt they needed to take to Congo DR for the return against Mazembe but fell short of adding any more. However, the Moroccan side's surprise win over Mazembe was not the only good news for teams from North Africa.
Al Ahly continued to gather momentum after months sitting on their heels in the wake of the political turmoil in Egypt, which brought an abrupt halt to their league campaign at the start of the year. The Cairo giants are now re-immersed in both the Champions League as well as the resumption of their own domestic championship and finding form.
There had been concerns about the match against the Zambians, who posed something of an unknown factor, but the goalless draw means Ahly are fancied to go through to the group phase for a record tenth time.
It is a record Al Ahly currently share with last year’s Champions League runners-up Esperance. The Tunisians have also been participants in the group phase nine times since the new format was introduced in 1997. They, too, look to be odds-on to take it to ten after a 5-0 thumping of Diaraf Dakar of Senegal behind closed doors in Tunis on Saturday. Four goals came in the first half, including a second-minute goal from former Mali international Dramane Traore and two soon thereafter from the highly-rated Oussama Darragi.
“We fully deserved our win against a very aggressive and athletic side. We showed great character and improvement both technically and tactically,” said Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul as the team completed a two-match punishment after incidents in last year’s final, which prompted a ban on spectators for their first two home matches of the 2011 edition.
Putting the continental ship right
Mouloudia Alger has been struggling in their domestic league and sit firmly out of the title reckoning, but they put that poor form behind them to force a 1-1 draw away at InterClube of Angola, equalising three minutes into additional time at the end of the game through Zineddine Bensalem. He had only been on the pitch for 120 seconds when he scored to complete a a positive scoreline that will make them favourites to advance.
Alger put in an impressive rearguard display as they had defender Almi El Douadi sent off for two yellow cards inside the first nine minutes and from the free-kick that led to the second caution had seen Pedro Henriques score for Luanda’s police club. “It was a heroic performance, despite our numerical inferiority and the difficulty we had with the pitch, we fought to try and win. We had patience and determination and a draw suits us perfectly. In the next leg we have a rendezvous with history,” proclaimed Mouloudia Alger’s coach Noureddine Zekri as they seek to reach the league phase for the first time.
The return legs will be played on the weekend of 6-8 May.
Third round, first leg results
Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) 1 - 0 TP Mazembe (Congo DR, holders)
InterClube (Angola) 1 - 1 Mouloudia Alger (Algeria)
Zesco United (Zambia) 0 - 0 Al Ahly (Egypt)
Esperance (Tunisia) 5 - 0 Diaraf Dakar (Senegal)
Al Hilal (Sudan) 1 - 0 Club Africain (Tunisia)
Coton Sport (Cameroon) v Entente Setif (Algeria) to 7 and 13 May.
Raja Casablanca (Morocco) v ASEC Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) will be a single tie played on 7 May.
Enyimba (Nigeria) v Al Ittihad (Libya) will be a single tie played on 8 May.