Triumphant Tunisian trio
While Egyptian clubs Ahli and Ismaili were unlucky in Africa's biggest two football competitions, Tunisia celebrated three of its teams making a trio impressive wins in both events
Tunisian champions, Etoile du Sahel became the first side to qualify for the semi-finals of the 12th MTN/CAF Champions League after a 2-0 victory over JS Kabylie while defending champions, Ahli suffered a shocking lone goal defeat by Esperance over the weekend.
Etoile, which remains the only unbeaten side in the continent's most prestigious club competition, confirmed their place in the last four with the victory at Tizi Ouzou, Algeria on Friday with two matches remaining.
A goal in each half from Beninois-import Muri Ogunbiyi and striker Armine Chermiti was all the Tunisian 'Stars'needed to achieve their third win in the group phase.
Ogunbiyi opened the scores on the stoppage of the first half, before Chermiti sealed the victory with his late strike two minutes into the game to shutter the hopes of the Algerian champions, who tasted their third defeat of the campaign.
Etoile, current holders of the Confederations Cup were losing finalists in 2004 and 2005.
In the other match of Group A, Al Ittihad of Libya boosted their chances of a last four berth with a 2-0 victory over FAR Rabat of Morocco.
Younes Shibani scored first after 43 minutes before Salem Al-Rawani doubled the lead on the half hour mark with a superb strike.
Al Ittihad is now second with seven points, four ahead of FAR Rabat and JS Kabylie who have three points apiece from four games.
At the Rades Stadium, injury-plagued Esperance gave thanks to midfielder Salama Kasraoui, whose 38th minute strike gave a victory over Ahli, their first win at this stage in Group B.
It was Ahli's first continental defeat in ten months, which gave the 1994 champions, Esperance a glimmer of hope in the quest for a semi- final berth.
Despite the absence of three key players, Saber Khalifa, Lackham Chakib and Zied Bhairi; Esperance looked the better of the two sides as they avenged their 3-0 defeat suffered at the Cairo International Stadium a fortnight ago in grand style.
It was Ahli's first defeat since the 2-1 loss to ASEC Mimosas in the semi-final of last year's competition. Kasraoui broke the deadlock seven minutes before the end of the first half after capitalising on a lack of concentration by the Ahli defence, to confirm Esperance's dominance and send the Tunisian fans into a rapturous mood.
Kamel Zaiem's brilliant long pass scaled the Ahli defence to Kasraoui, whose right-footed first-timer glided the left post before kissing the back of the net. Esperance piled pressure on the defending champions as they probed for more goals, but some indecisive shooting upfront ensured it remained a dream.
Ahli coach, Jose Manuel introduced playmaker Mohammed Barakat, Osama Hosni and Reda Al-Weeshi but their presence was too little to give them the equaliser. The Portuguese trainer admitted post match that the defeat was a wake up call for his team in their quest to win an unprecedented third straight title.
"This sends a warning signal to all who thought we could win our third straight title unbeaten,' said Jose, who congratulated Esperance on their wonderful performance. "Esperance played better and deserved the victory,'he added.
His counterpart, Arbi Zouaoui was full of praise for his boys for their 24-karat gold performance, which brightened their chances of a semi-final berth. "This win is a morale-booster to my players and our chances as well" said Zouaoui who guided the 1994 African champions to their first ever victory over Ahli in all competitions.
The Egyptian giants who still occupy the top spot of Group B are seeking for a record third successive triumph and need not less than a point in their remaining two games to qualify for the last four.
In the other Group B match, ASEC Mimosas grabbed its first win of the competition with a 1- 0 victory over Sudanese debutants Al Hilal at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium.
Antone Ngossan's half hour strike was all the 1998 champions needed to keep their hopes of annexing their second continental trophy in nine years alive.
ASEC have four points from four games, the same number of points as Esperance and still have a chance of qualifying for the semis.
On the other hand, in the Confederations Cup, Sudan's El-Merrikh and Tunisia's representative, CS Sfaxien recorded big wins over their respective opponents in the group phase of the Confederations Cup over the weekend.
El-Merrikh routed Nigerian side, Dolphins 6-1 in a Group A clash in Omdurman, while Sfaxien hammered South African champions, Mamelodi Sundowns 4-0 in Sfax in Group B. It was the biggest wins so far in the $300,000-monetary prize competition.
The victories pushed the two clubs to the summit of their groups on four points, and heightened their chances of qualifying for the semi- finals.
In Sudan, the fall of the Dolphins was masterminded by two former players, Efosa Eguakun and Endurance Idahor; who aided El-Merrikh to its biggest win ever in continental championships.
The duo was members of the Dolphins squad that emerged runners-up in the 2005 edition of the Confederation Cup, which lost to FAR Rabat of Morocco in the finals.
A brace from top striker Faisal Ajab and a goal each from Mogahed Ahmed, Mousa Al-Zouma, Idahor and Mohamed Safari gave El-Merrikh that memorable victory in the quest for continental silverware this year.
The 2005 losing finalists started the game on bright note but erratic shooting upfront robbed them of the opener.
The host took a deserved lead after 22 minutes through Ajab who headed home a corner kick to set the tone for a goal harvest.
The Sudanese 'Red Devils'trio of Brazilian import Paulo Roberto, Efosa and Ajab created some nervous moments for the Dolphins rear guard, the busier of the two sides.
In the 38th minute, Idahor who was playing against his former mates doubled the lead with a classic header from a Paulo freekick which beat Chijioke Ejiogu in post for the former Nigerian champions.
Dolphins' striker, Victor Ezeji reduced the deficit on resumption of the second half but the 52nd minute sending off of strike partner Bola Bello spelt disaster for the Port-Harcourt based team.
Al-Zouma restored the two goal lead for the Sudanese debutants with a perfect strike in the 65th minute before goals from Ajab, Ahmed and Safari sealed the deserved victory.
A visibly disturbed Ezeji blamed his team's performance on ill luck and the unfortunate dismissal of Bola. "We were very unlucky today and that is football for you.' Also the red card to Bola ruined our chances,' said the left footed striker.
Nigeria's Kwara United and Ismaili of Egypt settled for a 1-1 draw in the group's other match. Edward Weng put Kwara in front after 32 minutes before midfielder Mohammed Fadl leveled up for the Egyptian "Samba Boys" with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Ismaili lies second with two points from two games, with Nigeria's duo of Kwara and Dolphins following in that order with a point each.
At the Taieb Mhiri Stadium in Sfax, Sfaxien scored four unanswered goals past visiting Sundowns and edged the latter at the pinnacle of the group standings.
Striker Blaise Koissy opened the scores just two minutes before former Orlando Pirates hitman, Mbele Lelo doubled the lead five minutes later against the hapless Sundowns' team.
Koissy scored his second of the afternoon in the 27th minute before Naby Soumah sealed the victory with the fourth goal on the stroke of full time.
The victory was the first for the losing finalists of last year's CAF Champions League at the group phase.
In the other game, TP Mazembe beat Astres Douala 2-1 at the Kinshasa Stadium in Kinshasa
The win takes Mazembe to the second spot of Group B, while Astres slips to the bottom with just a point from the two games so far.