Title holders MAS Fez of Morocco had four players sent off as they crashed out of the CAF Confederation Cup in the third round this weekend.
Athletic Club Leopards of Congo Brazzaville triumphed 2-0 at home in a fiery clash to overturn a one-goal away defeat and secure a place in the mini-league phase of the second-tier CAF club competition.
MAS, who defeated Club Africain of Tunisia in a penalty shoot-out last year to become the third Moroccan winners of the Cup, had midfielder Rachid Dahmani red carded before falling behind to a 40th-minute Bienvenu Kombo goal.
The referee sent off defenders Omar Ennamsaoui and Said Hammouni in the final minute of regular time and another defender, Younes Lyousfi, in stoppage time.
MAS kept Leopards at bay with just seven men until Yapo Guolelida fired a penalty past goalkeeper Anas Zniti to seal the Congolese side passage into the last eight.
It was another prized win for Leopards, who are from the western city Dolisie, as they overcame a first-round home loss to two-time Confederation Cup winners CSS of Tunisia by winning 2-0 in Mediterranean city Sfax.
The Congolese also eliminated Tempete Mocaf of the Central African Republic and Heartland of Nigeria in other qualifiers en route to the group phase.
Black Leopards held goalless
Black Leopards of South Africa, another team who exceeded expectations by making the third round, were held goalless at home by 2007 runners-up Al Merreikh from Sudan and bowed out having lost 3-2 in Omdurman two weeks ago.
While the club based in northern city Polokwane comfortably contained Sudanese attempts to score, they also lacked a cutting edge at a chilly Ellis Park in Johannesburg and rarely troubled goalkeeper Akram El Hadi.
Al Hilal, the great domestic rivals of Merreikh, also advanced with a 1-0 win over Cercle Bamako in Mali through a first-half goal from Mudathir Eltaib after taking a two-goal advantage into the return match.
Malian clubs take edge
A couple of other Malian clubs did survive, though, with Stade Malien holding COD Meknes to a 1-1 draw in Morocco to advance 4-1 on aggregate, and Djoliba squeezing through on penalties after a 2-0 loss to Club Africain in Tunis.
Abdelali Essamlali offered Meknes a glimmer of hope with a goal after 21 minutes, but Lamine Diawara levelled before half-time for 2009 title holders Stade Malien.
Hamzi Agrebi put Africain ahead during the first half at the Olympic Stadium and Haj Massaoud scored a tie-levelling second goal from a spot-kick seven minutes into stoppage time before Djoliba won 4-3 in the shoot-out.
Wydad Casablanca, runners-up to Esperance of Tunisia in the 2011 CAF Champions League, were the lone Moroccan survivors with a 0-0 home draw against AFAD Djekanou of Côte d'Ivoire sufficient as they won away.