CAF Champions League review

TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo have sent out a clear signal about their high hopes of successfully defending their CAF Champions League crown.

The Lubumbashi-based side began the group stage of this year’s competition with a 2-0 away win over Dynamos of Zimbabwe on Sunday, signalling their intent to repeat the feat of some 40 years ago when they were the first side to successfully defend the continent’s top club prize.

The opening weekend of the league competition failed to produce a home winner as Esperance of Tunisia and Algeria’s JS Kabylie also won away from home. Also, the all-conquering Egyptian club Al Ahly, seeking to extend their record number of Champions League title to seven, also got off on the right foot with a draw in Nigeria.

Mazembe’s squad has taken on as more cosmopolitan look over the last few years and it was the Zambian international Given Singuluma, who scored both goals in Harare. He netted the first after 16 minutes and added a second just past the half-hour mark to give Mazembe a comfortable start in Group A. It was a win they needed, given that on Friday night a strong challenge had already been laid down by Esperance.

The Tunisian champions went away to Setif in neighbouring Algeria and beat Entente Setif 1-0 with a second half goal from Wajdi Bouazzi, who leapt onto a cross from Oussama Darragi. It could prove to be a decisive win for Esperance as the group phase unfolds but it was a victory which underwhelmed their coach.

We showed heart, guts and a desire to win.

“It was a satisfactory result,” said Faouzi Benzart. “We showed heart, guts and a desire to win, which are reassuring because without them we have no chance of winning the competition.”

Algeria’s disappointment at Setif’s home reversal was tempered on Sunday night when JS Kabylie went to Egypt and beat Ismailia 1-0 in the Group B match. The only goal was a powerful header from a corner converted by Essaid Belkalem with just 15 minutes remaining.

“My strength lies in my heading ability,” said Belkalem. “I usually do well at corners. I came in at full speed to head the ball. I’m very happy because it’s the best goal I’ve scored.”

Also on Sunday, Nigeria’s Heartland FC went into their match with Al Ahly at Owerri’s Dan Anyiam Stadium having just changed their coaching staff, handing a six-month contract to Samson Siasia on Monday in the place of Kelechi Emeteole.

It gave the former FIFA World Cup competitor little time to prepare but he will have been pleased to see Joshua Obaje’s goal just after half-time put Heartland into the lead.

But Mohamed Aboutrika, so often the rescuer for the Cairo giants in vital continental club competition matches equalised in the 75th minute.

The second round of group matches will be played on Saturday 31 July and Sunday 1 August.