CAF Champions League title-holders Esperance of Tunisia and three former winners drew away this weekend as the last-32 qualifying phase kicked off. Little Brikama United held Esperance 1-1 in Gambia with Wajdi Bouazzi giving the two-time champions a third-minute lead and Musa Bojang equalising with a powerful header soon after.
Although Esperance lacked suspended midfielders Khaled Korbi and Mejdi Traoui and injured defender Khalil Chamman, they were the superior team for long stages and should clinch a place next month in the final qualifying round. Etoile Sahel, the other challengers from Tunisia and shock winners of the 2007 final against Al Ahly of Egypt, demonstrated their defensive strength by holding Rwandan military club APR 0-0 in Kigali.
TP Mazembe of the Congo DR, whose four titles makes them the third most successful club in the elite CAF competition after Ahly and Cairo neighbours Zamalek, conceded a late goal to draw 1-1 at Power Dynamos of Zambia. Tanzania-born Mbwana Samata put the expensively assembled and star-stacked visiting team ahead on 16 minutes in Copperbelt town Kitwe and Kamzati Kabwe equalised six minutes from time.
Centre-back Stopilla Sunzu, whose penalty shootout goal gave Zambia a shock victory over Côte d'Ivoire in the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations final last month, was among three of the winning team in the Mazembe starting line-up. Samata took advantage of slack marking at a packed Arthur Davies Stadium to beat goalkeeper Joshua Titima at his near post and Kabwe levelled off a free kick that was deflected past Robert Kidiaba.
Vita Club, champions in 1973 and the other half of a two-prong Congo DR assault, exceeded expectations by forcing a 0-0 draw at ASO Chlef of Algeria, who scored four times at home in a preliminary tie. The Kinshasa outfit, who suffered a 4-1 drubbing away to Athletico Olympique of Burundi last weekend having won 5-0 at home, are now favoured to move a step closer to the title and a FIFA Club World Cup slot.
Zimbabwe representatives Platinum FC and Dynamos were involved in 2-2 draws against Al Merreikh of Sudan in Harare and Liga Muculmana of Mozambique in Maputo respectively. Newcomers Platinum were furious at having to play in the capital - a six-hour drive from their ground in central mining town Zvishavane, which did not have suitable accommodation for the visitors from Omdurman.
A Rufaro Stadium thriller saw the visitors lead twice in the opening half through Ugandan Mike Mutyaba and Saeed Mustafa and Mitchell Katsvairo on target for the miners. Joel Ngodzo levelled again six minutes into a second half that ended with the Zimbabweans a man short after substitute defender Norman Togara was red carded following a second caution.
Takesure Chinyama twice put 1998 runners-up Dynamos in front only for Stelio 'Telinho' Marcelino and Manuel 'Muandro' Mbalango to equalise in a pulsating southern Africa derby.
Sudanese side Al-Hilal were the most impressive winners, scoring three goals without reply away to Diplomates FC of the Central African Republic in Bangui with Mudather Eltaib, Zimbabwean Edward Sadomba and Bakry Al Madina netting.