Tunisian giants Espérance will make their maiden appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup following their second CAF Champions League title win, their first such title for seventeen years, which was achieved with a 1-0 aggregate victory over Moroccans WAC Casablanca in the final. Should the Tunis based side overcome the challenge of Asian champions Al Sadd in the quarter-finals, a glamour tie against UEFA Champions League winners FC Barcelona will be on the cards for one of Africa’s most famous clubs.
Espérance began their successful 2011 CAF Champions League campaign by knocking out ASPAC FC from Benin 5-2 on aggregate before Senegal’s Diaraf FC were put to the sword with a 6-0 drubbing. The 24-time Tunisian champions then managed to top their CAF Champions League group ahead of WAC Casablanca, MC Alger and record champions Al Ahly Cairo with a record of two wins and four draws from their six games. Espérance, along with WAC, both went through to the semi-finals of the competition and were able to dispose of Al-Hilal Omdurman and Enyimba FC in their respective matches to set up a showpiece two-legged meeting in the final. In a tight contest the first leg, played in Casablanca, ended up as a goalless stalemate and the return fixture in Tunis was settled by just the one goal which came from Harrison Afful in the 20th minute. The narrow 1-0 aggregate win gave Espérance a long-awaited second African crown and the chance to show off their talents in Japan this year.
Since winning the CAF Champions League in November a new domestic league season has begun in Tunisia with Espérance suffering a mixed bag of results. They opened their 2011-12 Tunisian league account with a 1-1 draw away to EGS Gafsa before recording their first win with a 3-0 score line over Monastir. Their most recent league game saw them lose 2-1 to early season pacesetters Bizertin which leaves Espérance in eighth place of the sixteen team league with just four points to show for their efforts. The only good thing about the timing of their oncoming FIFA Club World Cup quarter-final against Al Sadd is that the Qatari outfit is also in poor domestic form having lost their last two matches in the Stars League. With neither side on a high ahead of their match it is too close to call a winner but, if one thing is certain, it is that both sides will give their all in the hope of meeting the European champions in the semi-finals.
ESPERANCE TUNIS v WAC CASABLANCA, FINAL 2ND LEG GOAL
ESPERANCE TUNIS – CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNING CELEBRATIONS
The African Champions League saw the first legs of the semi-final stage this weekend with narrow wins for Moroccans Wydad Casablanca and Tunisians Espérance.
Wydad Casablanca, African champions back in 1992, were fearful of wasting home advantage as their game against Nigerian champions Enyimba FC looked to be heading to a goalless stalemate. However their nerves were spared in the last minute of the game after Benin international Pascal Angan scored the goal which separates the two sides going into the return leg. Espérance won their opening leg away to Sudanese outfit Al-Hilal Omdurmam by a similar score line but, in contrast to Wydad, bagged their goal early on in the game thanks to Youssef Msakni in the 4th minute. The Tunisians, who claimed their only tournament win two years after Wydad in 1994, will have home advantage in the return fixture.
WYDAD CASABLANCA 1-0 ENYIMBA FC
Both of those teams have already faced each other on two occasions in this year’s tournament. Two drawn matches helped them both qualify for the last four of the competition having finished in the top two places of Group B in the competition league stage. Should both of the opening leg victors negotiate their way through tough second leg encounters, which will be played in just less than a fortnight’s time, then they will face off again in a two-legged final in November.
ESPERANCE 1-0 AL-HILAL OMDURMAM
With just one matchday to play in the group stage of the CAF African Champions League only Nigerian champions Enyimba FC have secured a place in the semi-finals. Five teams kept alive their ambitions of progression into the final four of this year’s competition and thus ensure an interesting finish to this stage of the tournament next weekend. A similar situation prevaisl in the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup with only Angolan outfit Inter Luanda guaranteed a semi-final place as it stands after Matchday 5.
A stoppage time goal from Samuel Tswanya gave Enyimba FC a 2-1 win away at Sudanese champions Al-Hilal Omdurmam and provided the Nigerians with a four point cushion at the top of the table with just one match to play in Group A. Osmaila Baiba bagged two goals as his Coton Sport side came from behind to beat Moroccans Raja Casablanca by two goals to one. Coton Sport are in joint second place with Al-Hilal on seven points and both teams must travel on the final matchday to Enyimba FC and Raja Casablanca respectively.
Group B still remains very open with only MC Alger completely out of the running for a semi-final spot. Espérance ST hammered MC Alger by four goals to nil on Saturday with Yannick N’Djeng scoring a hat-trick for the Tunisian champions to ensure that they top the group with nine points from five games going into the last match of the group stage next weekend. A win for Wydad Casablanca yesterday would’ve guaranteed them a semi-final spot but they fluffed their opportunity at home to record African champions Al Ahly with the teams having to be satisfied with a point each following a 1-1 draw. Wydad will still fancy their chances of progression as they travel to MC Alger on Matchday 6 with Egyptian giants Al Ahly hosting Espérance ST on Friday night.
Inter Luanda’s 4-1 thrashing of Nigerians Kaduna United means that they guarantee themselves the first semi-final spot of the 2011 CAF Confederation Cup. Club Africain look the most likely to join Inter into the semi-finals from Group A as they have eight points, three more than Kaduna United whom they must face on Matchday 6 hopeful of gaining just a solitary point to qualify. MAS Fez currently top Group B with eleven points and need just a point at home to Congolese side Motema Pembe to be certain of semi-final football. Motema Pembe along with Nigerians Sunshine Stars lie on eight points but the latter seem more likely to progress as they have a home match against JS Kabylie on Matchday 6 with the Algerian side remaining pointless after five games.
The semi-final places have yet to be decided in the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup and with four of the six matchdays completed it seems likely that the next round of games will be the most important played in this year’s competitions so far.
Group A could’ve seen Nigerians Enyimba FC (4 games, 8 points) seal their place in the last four at the weekend but they were held to a goalless draw away at bottom club Raja Casablanca who gained only their second point of the campaign. Second place Al-Hilal Omdurman could also have sealed their semi-final place but they remain one point behind the leaders following their 2-0 away defeat at Cameroonians Coton Sport who overtook Raja Casablanca into third place on the back of the win with four points. The spotlight will be on the top two on Matchday 5 with Al-Hilal hosting Enyimba in Sudan’s second city and the winner guaranteeing themselves a semi-place.
There was an obvious lack of goals in this weekend’s Group B encounters. Top two clubs Espérance and Wydad Casablanca (both 4 games, 6 points) faced off in Tunis for their Matchday 4 clash but had to be content with a point following a 0-0 draw. The same can also be said of third and fourth place Al-Ahly and MC Alger with the former frustrated in their efforts to overtake the top two into top spot. As a result of their match Al-Ahly close the gap on the top two to just one point with the Algerians rooted to the bottom of the group with two points. Both Espérance and Wydad will hope to seal their progress into the semi-finals on Matchday 5 with both teams having home matches against MC Alger and Al-Ahly respectively. A win for both sides would mean guaranteed qualification to the next stage.
The CAF Confederation Cup remains open this year with any of the four teams in Group A still able to qualify for the semi-finals whilst Group B sees the top three separated by just one point. Group A saw victories on Matchday 4 for Inter Luanda and Kaduna United, both of whom triumphed 2-1 at home against Club Africain and ASEC Mimosas respectively. Inter Luanda (4 games, 7 points) hope to seal progression at home to Kaduna United (5 points) on Matchday Five whilst Club Africain (5 points) can effectively eliminate ASEC Mimosas (4 points) from the competition should they win their encounter next time out.
Group B hasn’t been a happy adventure for Algerian side JS Kabylie this year. The two-time African champions have struggled in the second-tier competition losing all four matches in the group stage so far, the latest a 2-0 away defeat at the hands of Congolese side Motema Pembe who are now in joint second place with Nigerian outfit Sunshine Stars (7 points) who drew 1-1 at home to group leaders MAS Fez (8 points). While Motema Pembe and Sunshine Stars must face off in a fortnight’s time, group leaders MAS Fez will be quietly confident of progression on Matchday 5 as they travel to JS Kabylie.
African football’s two main club competitions have reached the halfway stage in the group phase. Two teams continue to dominate in Group A of the CAF Champions League whilst Group B is a more competitive affair. In the CAF Confederation Cup things remain tight in both groups and there is no team who has yet laid down a marker for the rest of the tournament.
Sudanese champions Al-Hilal Club and their Nigerian counterparts Enyimba FC look set to be the two teams who will qualify from Group A for the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League. Both teams recorded home victories on Matchday 3 with Al-Hilal getting the better of Cameroonians Coton Sport thanks to a 2-1 score line whilst Enyimba FC saw off Moroccans Raja Casablanca with a comfortable 2-0 win. The victories leave both teams with a record of two wins and a draw from their first three group matches and the margin between them and the other two teams is six points with Coton Sport and Raja chalking up only one point each so far.
Group B is a tighter affair involving three of the giants of North African football. After three games Tunisians Espérance and Moroccans Wydad Casablanca lead the way on five points each with record six-time African champions Al-Ahly just one point behind. The table is propped up by Algerians MC Alger who have found it difficult to follow up their opening day draw to the group leaders. Matchday 3 saw MC Alger lose 2-0 in Cairo to Al-Ahly whilst Espérance and Wydad Casablanca fought out a 2-2 draw with the latter coming back from two goals down in front of their home supporters.
The CAF Confederation Cup remains intriguing after three matches with both groups remaining competitive. Group A is topped by Tunisians Club Africain who have one win and two draws to show for their efforts so far and their five point tally is just one better than that of Inter Luanda (Angola) and ASEC Mimosas (Ivory Coast) who are second and third respectively. ASEC pulled closer to the leaders following their 2-1 win over Nigerians Kaduna United who, despite being bottom of the table, are still only three points behind the leaders whilst Club Africain top the group thanks to a 2-0 home win against Inter Luanda.
Group B is also a tight affair involving three clubs. Algerians JS Kabylie are almost certainly out of the picture following three straight defeats and it is left to MAS Fez (Morocco), Sunshine Stars (Nigeria) and Motema Pembe (Congo) to fight it out for the two semi-final places available from this group. MAS leapfrogged over Sunshine Stars following a 1-0 win over the Nigerians on Saturday to lead the group with seven points. The Stars are just a solitary point behind the leaders whilst Motema Pembe are just two points further back following their 2-0 away victory against JS Kabylie on Friday.
Despite the lack of winners and losers in the opening round of matches in the CAF Champions League group stages this weekend there was still plenty to shout about. The CAF Confederation Cup, Africa’s second-tier competition, almost followed suit with two of this weekend’s four matches ending in a stalemate. Only Nigerian club Sunshine Stars and Moroccans MAS Fez managed to get three points from their opening group stage fixtures.
Two teams who were recently crowned their respective national champions, Raja Casblanca (Morocco) and Coton Sport (Cameroon) could only muster a 0-0 draw in their opening Group A fixture. Their group rivals Enyimba FC (Nigeria) and Al-Hilal Omdurman (Sudan) shared four goals between them with Edward Sadomba’s brace for Al-Hilal cancelled out by goals from Valentine Nwabili and Uche Kalu for Enyimba. In Group B there was an exciting six goal thriller in Egypt as record champions Al Ahly were just seconds away from enjoying an opening day victory. However Mouhcine Lajour equalized in the 89th minute to seal a point for Wydad Casablanca as the Moroccans salvaged a 3-3 draw. In Algeria there were two early goals as Oussama Darragi opened the scoring after seven minutes for Espérance ST (Tunisia) only for the home side MC Alger to equalize ten minutes later through Mohamed Megherbi.
The two games in Group B of the CAF Confederation Cup went the way of Sunshine Stars and MAS Fez who enjoyed wins over DR Congo’s Motema Pembe and Algeria’s JS Kabylie respectively. Sunshine Stars, who currently lie second in their domestic championship, were grateful to goal scorers Dayo Ojo and Ajani Ibrahim in their 2-0 home win whilst MAS Fez won by a solitary goal from Chemseddine Chetaibi in their Group B fixture. Both matches in Group A ended in a 1-1 score line with Kaduna United (Nigeria) tied with Inter Luanda (Angola) and ASEC Mimosas (Ivory Coast) drawing with Club Africain (Tunisia).
With much political and civil unrest disrupting a great deal of the 2011 CAF Champions League it is an achievement in itself that the group stages will be played as originally scheduled. Many games were either postponed, re-scheduled or teams disqualified from the tournament for various reasons in what has been a difficult tournament to organize. Defending champions TP Mazembe should’ve been playing in the group stages but were disqualified after having been found to have fielded an ineligible player in the first round of qualifying. Despite these setbacks there are eight teams split into the customary two groups who will be fighting it out over the next four months to become Africa’s best club side.
Group A sees two former champions, Enyimba FC (Nigeria) and Raja Casablanca (Morocco), battle it out along with two highly ambitious sides in Cotonsport (Cameroon) and Al-Hilal Omdurman (Sudan). Enyimba, back-to-back champions in 2003 and 2004, are eleven points behind league leaders Dolphins FC in the Nigerian Premier League and will put a great deal of emphasis on winning their third African crown. Raja Casablanca, fresh from clinching their tenth domestic title earlier this season, now hope to add an overdue fourth continental title in the trophy cabinet having last won this competition in 1999. Al-Hilal, currently lying second in the Sudanese Premier League, have never got beyond the semi-finals of this competition and feel that they can reach this stage again this time around. Cotonsport, who sealed their eleventh domestic crown in Cameroon last weekend, were beaten finalists in 2008 and are one of the biggest clubs never to be African champions, a situation they hope to put right this time around.
Group B features four clubs who have been champions of Africa nine times between them. Al Ahly (Egypt) are the most dominant force in the competition’s history with six victories, the last four having been won in the last decade. Having sealed yet another domestic title in Egypt, Al Ahly will fancy themselves in this competition yet again. 1994 winners Espérance (Tunisia) have recently claimed a record-extending 24th title in their home country but have underachieved in this tournament and are desperate to make amends having been routed 6-1 in last year’s final. Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), champions in 1992, had to be content with third place in this year’s Moroccan championship whilst MC Alger (Algeria), who haven’t lifted a title in this competition for over three decades, were a distant 26 points behind champions ASO Chlef in their national championship so it is imperative for these clubs to get over domestic disappointment with a wonderful showing on continental level.
This year’s tournament gets under way this weekend with each team hoping to get that crucial first victory under their belts. In Group A things kick off with Enyimba and Raja Casablanca at home to Al-Hilal and Cotonsport respectively whilst Group B sees Al Ahly and MC Alger playing hosts to Wydad Casablanca and Espérance.
Defending African champions TP Mazembe were just fifteen minutes away from elimination in the third qualifying round of the 2011 CAF Champions League. They managed to dig themselves out of a hole against Moroccans Wydad Casablanca, who held a 1-0 lead from the first leg, thanks to strikes from Patou Kabangu and Hughes Bedi Mbenza. The latter’s goal came in second half stoppage time and the win ensured that Mazembe reached the group stages of the tournament for the fourth tournament in a row and keeps up the Lumbumbashi based club’s hopes of a third consecutive title.
Wydad’s local rivals Raja Casablanca, on the other hand, enjoyed success in their fixture against Ivorians ASEC Mimosas, the game being played over just one leg due to the political instability affecting the Ivory Coast at the moment. Raja’s Mohsine Moutouali restored parity in the 90th minute of the game after ASEC’s Adama Bakayoko had given his team the lead midway through the second half. Raja held their nerve in the subsequent penalty shoot out and progressed to the group stages with a 100% success rate having scored all of their penalty kicks in a 5-4 shoot-out win. Record champions Al Ahly have also reached the group stages following their slender 1-0 aggregate success over Zambians ZESCO United with Mohamed Barakat’s 66th minute goal in the second leg proving to be the difference between the two sides.
The other successful teams included Nigeria’s Enyimba, who overcame Libya’s Al-Ittihad 1-0 in another game reduced to a single fixture, Algerian outfit MC Alger, ST Espérance (Tunisia) and Al-Hilal Omdurman (Sudan). Algerians ES Sétif and Cameroon’s Coton Sport, with the latter holding a 4-1 lead from the first leg, will be completed on May 13th. The losing teams from this stage of the CAF Champions League will feature in the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup Play-Off round and the draws for both of these tournaments will be made on May 15th.
Following a 5-0 victory in the first leg of this year’s final it was no surprise to see defending CAF Champions League holders TP Mazembe lift the trophy for a second consecutive running. Their 1-1 draw away at Tunisian giants Espérance in yesterday’s second leg gave the Congan side their fourth title overall in African football’s showpiece tournament.
Espérance gave their fans something to shout about in the 23rd minute of the second leg when Harrison Afful gave the Tunis based side the lead and reduced the aggregate score to 5-1. TP Mazembe, however, were always comfortable knowing that they had such a substantial lead already to their credit and they restored parity in the 69th minute when Kanda A Mukok tucked home the equalizing score on the night, increasing the overall score to 6-1.
Earlier in the day Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma won the Asian equivalent of this competition and TP Mazembe’s triumph finally confirmed the line-up for this year’s FIFA Club World Cup which takes place in the United Arab Emirates next month. The other teams competing will be Internazionale FC (Europe), Internacional (South America), Pachuca (North America), Hekari United (Oceania) and Al-Wahda (United Arab Emirates champions). TP Mazembe will play Mexican side Pachuca in the quarter-final stage on December 10th.
WATCH VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
Defending African champions TP Mazembe have already as good as won the CAF Champions League for a second successive year, and fourth title overall, following their 5-0 demolition of Tunisian champions Espérance.
In an amazing first leg to this year’s CAF Champions League final the Congolese side took to the field at their home Stade de la Kenya in the town of Lubumbashi and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Although it has to be said that the first goal from Ndandu Kasongo had a touch of controversy about it as it was debateable whether the ball had crossed the line from his 18th minute header but the referee gave the goal and TP Mazembe didn’t look back. The Tunisians’ cause wasn’t helped when Mohamed Ben Masour was sent off just six minutes later for an off-the-ball incident. Following all of the incidents that had befallen them Espérance very nearly made it in at the break with a mere one goal deficit but a penalty given in first half stoppage time to the home side was tucked away by Dioko Kaluyituka and the game was fast running away from the Tunis side. The second half saw an inevitable avalanche of chances from TP Mazembe whose superior numbers on the field was turned into a vastly superior number of goals as Given Singuluma scored twice just before the hour mark and Kasongo scored his second of the game with sixteen minutes to go.
As it happens the only other time that a team took a five goal advantage into the second leg of the final happened in 1968 after Togo’s Étoile Filante de Lomé lost to a Congolese team called TP Englebert, now known to all as TP Mazembe, in the second win of a back-to-back success. It looks like history is going to repeat itself following the second leg of the 2010 CAF Champions League final to be played in Tunis on November 13th.
WATCH TP MAZEMBE v ESPERANCE HIGHLIGHTS HERE: