Champions League: Leopards change spots, Saint George join them in 2nd round

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Getty ImagesA young Zamalek fan celebrates after the Egyptian side advanced to the second round of the CAF Champions League with a goalless draw at AS Vita Saturday.

Congolese football climbed another rung on the ladder of progress as their leading club, AC Leopards, secured a spot in the second phase (and finally, the last) of first-round qualification in the CAF Champions League on the weekend.

Leopards overturned a three-goal deficit against Nigeria's Kano Pillars to put themselves among the best 16 teams on the continent, further underlining the development made in the county, whose national side leads their 2014 World Cup qualifying group.

By all accounts, Leopards were not supposed to advance this far. Having slumped to a 4-1 road defeat in the first leg, like Sudanese giants Al-Hilal, Leopards needed to score three unanswered goals at home to book their place in the next round.

Al-Hilal did not. They found the back of the net the required number of times but they conceded one, which saw Ivorian hopefuls Sewe Sports advancement to the second round for the first time.

Leopards join Sewe Sports, having not faced the same problem as Al-Hilal. They scored three times to shock Kano Pillars, who would have though their place in the last 16 already booked. They were ungracious after a 3-0 defeat, especially because the third goal came through a penalty in stoppage time, in similar fashion to the loss of their countrymen Heartland in the CAF Confederation Cup in Dolisie last year.

Kano Pillars complained the spot kick was wrongfully awarded. Team official Idris Malikawa launched a scathing attack on the referees shortly after the match. “This was daylight robbery. African football is doomed if we do not stamp out this biased handling of matches,” he said.

The Congolese side will not mind the bad taste they have left in Nigerian mouths because this victory marks another step in a journey that is still headlined by their surprise win in the Confederation Cup last year. Then, they drew in Mali against Djoliba and won at home to end a 38-year trophy drought. It was seen as result of the slow burn to get better, as they finished league runners-up in the three season preceding that.

The Malian team they defeated then do not have a similar success story to boast about. They will not feature in the second round after they lost to Ethiopian side Saint George, probably the other surprise in the last 16. Saint George won 2-0 at home, then held Djoliba to a draw to also make their first appearance in the second round.

Saint George have enjoyed a solid run at home and also seem to be contributing to national development. They supply the Ethiopian team with nine of their current squad, including captain Debu Debebe, who scored the equaliser that ensured the team drew in Mali. Striker Adane Girma has been spoken of as one of the most promising on the continent and given the entertainment they provided at the African Nations Cup 2012, the state of their game appears healthy.

Egyptian football will feel a similar way. Both Al-Ahly and Zamalek advanced to the second round, with the former beating Tuskers in both legs and the latter drawing with AS Vita in Kinshasa after winning at home. Saint George will gear up to play Zamalek and Tunisia's CA Bizerten have to face the defending champions.

In other expected results, TP Mazembe crushed Botswana's Mochudi Centre Chiefs 6-0 at home to set up a date with a South African club under some pressure, Orlando Pirates. They beat Zambian champions Zanaco to end a six-match streak without a win, but are still off the pace in their own league.

The second round of qualifying also takes place over two legs in late April and early May. The winners of each of the ties will advance to the group stage, where they will go into two pools of four and have to play a round-robin circuit to determine who goes ahead to the semi-finals.

(two legs, tentatively scheduled for April 19 and May 5):

Zamalek v Saint George
CA Bizerten v Al-Ahly
Orlando Pirates v TP Mazembe
Enugu Rangers v Recreativo do Libolo
JSM Bejaia v Esperance
FUS Rabat v Sewe Sport
Coton Sport v Stade Malian
AC Leopards v ES Setif

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