Tunisian clubs Esperance and Etoile Sahel survived scares at home this weekend to reach the final qualifying round for the CAF Champions League. Sudanese side Al Hilal went on a five-goal romp in another last-32 game as some of the African club football elite moved closer to the group phase.
Defending champions Esperance came from behind in Tunis suburb Rades to beat international novices Brikama United of Gambia 3-1 after a 1-1 first leg draw in west Africa two weeks ago. Former title holders Etoile left it extremely late against Rwandan military outfit APR in Mediterranean resort Sousse with Lassad Jaziri winning the match and the tie 3-2 through a goal eight minutes into stoppage time.
Mudather Eltaib and Zimbabwe-born Edward Sadomba bagged a brace each as regular Champions League semi-finalists Hilal overwhelmed Central African Republic visitors Diplomates FC 5-1 in Omdurman.
Champions required to chase
Esperance, whose triumph last November was a second in an annual championship first staged 48 years ago, fell behind 28 minutes into the opening half as Lamine Fawo struck for the Gambian provincial team.
Wajdi Bouazza, who scored in the first leg, levelled on 40 minutes and highly-rated Youssef Msakni put the 'Blood and Gold' ahead on the night and on aggregate with a superbly struck free kick just before half-time. Cameroon-born Yannick Ndjeng missed a penalty kick midway through the second half before Karim Aouadi settled Tunisian nerves with a third goal 18 minutes from time.
Jaziri opened the scoring on ten minutes for 2007 champions and twice runners-up Etoile, but Dan Wagaruka levelled before the break and Burundi striker Papy Faty nudged APR ahead close to time. Hamed Namouchi equalised in the final minute of regular time, Faty was red carded after a melee, and APR clung to the lead on the away-goal rule until Jaziri struck a second time.
Hilal, who have reached the penultimate stage three times in the past five years, took a three-goal lead into the return match and Sudan striker Eltaib struck twice in the first half. It was then the turn of Sadomba to torment Diplomates with a goal just after half-time and another from a mid-second half penalty before Saif Masawi struck and Omar Bakheet conceded a last-minute own goal.