Giants march through, Stars shine on

Most of the CAF Champions League final 16 are set after a goal-packed weekend that saw defending champions Esperance lead the way along with Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek and DR Congo contenders TP Mazembe.

Game of the week
Esperance 3-1 Brikama United (4-2 aggregate)

Holders Esperance went behind in the tie at home near the half-hour mark after Lamine Fawo’s impressive lob for the Gambian upstarts, but the two-time African champions exerted their class when they needed to. Wajdi Bouazzi equalised with his second goal in as many Champions League matches just ten minutes after the opener, and coveted starlet Youssef Msakni placed a free-kick before half-time. But the Tunisians, who were sluggish in the first leg also, failed to take advantage of the momentum as Joseph Yannick Ndjeng missed a penalty, and supporters were forced to wait until the 72nd minute for substitute Karim Aouadhi to finish the game. In the next round, the Sang et Or (Blood and Gold) will be heavily favoured to win a place in the group stage at the expense of Zimbabwe’s Dynamos at the end of April and in May.

The surprise
Sunshine Stars 3-0 Recreativo do Libolo (4-4 aggregate, Stars advance on away goals)

Sunshine Stars fought their way to the semi-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup last season and finished second in Nigeria, but they showed none of their promise in their first-leg collapse in Angola a fortnight ago, where they gave up three goals in the final ten minutes. But the coach of the 'Agagu Boys’, Gbenga Ogunote, and his team were very open about their confidence in the return, and the side attacked from the start. Izu Azuka started the fightback before captain Godfrey Oboabona scored from the penalty spot on the half-hour mark. The Angolans held on bravely with the tie in the balance for another 45 minutes before powerful striker Dele Olorundare headed in the dramatic winner. Stars will play the winner of the delayed URA-Djoliba tie.

The other matches
Nigerian champions Dolphins were not as fortunate as compatriots Sunshine Stars, going out on away goals to 2008 runners-up Coton Sport after the two legs ended 2-2 on aggregate. The Cameroonian champions won the second leg 1-0 in Garoua with the winner by Jacques Haman, who also scored the all-important away goal in the first match. In the next round they will meet Ghanaian champions Berekum Chelsea, who held on for a proud 5-3 aggregate win over Raja Casablanca.

Amr Zaki was the away-goal hero for five-time continental champions Zamalek, who advanced despite losing 2-1 to Africa Sports of Côte d’Ivoire. Missing playmaker Shikabala in midfield, Zamalek went behind in the aggregate score with 20 minutes left in the match after striker Soumaila Belem scored with two headers in the second half, before Zaki powered home a penalty won by Saied Mohamed. Zamalek’s rivals Al Ahly also advanced after beating ten-man Ethiopian Coffee 3-0 in the second leg after a scoreless draw in the opening match. The six-time champions will face the winner of the delayed Tonnerre-Stade Malien tie, while Zamalek take on Maghreb de Fes of Morocco.

Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel claimed a narrow second-leg win after another surprising 0-0 draw in the first leg against Rwandan military side APR. Lassad Jaziri was the double hero for the 2007 champions, scoring in both the ninth minute and deep in second-half injury time to win the match 3-2. Next, Etoile will take on Ivorian club AFAD Djekanou, who breezed past Algeria's JSM Bejaia. Sudan’s two dark horses, Al Hilal and Al Merreikh also advanced, beating DFC8 of Central African Republic and Zimbabwe’s FC Platinum respectively. Experienced contenders Hilal will face a tough test in the next round against Algeria’s ASO Chlef , while Merreikh will be underdogs against four-time African champions TP Mazembe.

Player to watch
Continuing to impress observers since returning to the pitch after his year-long ban ended last summer, TP Mazembe’s Tresor Mputu Mabi sent out a signal to the competition on behalf of the four-time African champions. The prodigious striker nailed a hat-trick as the 2009 and 2010 winners thumped Dynamos 6-0 after a 1-1 draw in the opening leg. The other three goals were claimed by Zambians: Rainford Kalaba opened the rout in the ninth minute and Given Singuluma added a quickfire double in the first half.

The stat
3 -
The number of nations that will definitely have two representatives in the last 16. They are Tunisia, Sudan and Egypt, while Mali's two clubs are still alive but postponed due to instability.

What they said
“We lacked an amount of focus, but we showed character in reacting to the opening goal and qualifying for the next round,” said Al Ahly coach Michel Decastel.

Have your say
Can Esperance win their third CAF Champions League? Who else are favourites? Share your thoughts below.