South Africans survive, an Ivorian maiden and big guns through

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Lubumbashi is best known for being the mining capital of the DRC. It is said that three percent of the world's copper comes from this area. It is also home to the country's Simba brewery, where the iconic Tembo Beer is manufactured.

But last night in Lubumbashi, their most popular football club, TP Mazembe, had neither the reason to believe they could get close to medals made of any metal, nevermind copper, nor a cause for a celebratory pint as they were knocked out of contention for the CAF Champions League group stage by South Africa's Orlando Pirates.

Mazembe won 1-0 at home but Pirates' 3-1 lead from the first leg proved too much to overturn. That's not to say it could not have been done. Mazembe were awarded two penalties in the match. Had they converted both, they would have gone through. South African shotstopper Senzo Meyiwa stood in their way and according to him, it was the least he could do after what some in the Pirates' camp called a torturous experience at the stadium.

Those words were splashed across some of the country's papers with some calling the DRC a "nightmare" and others going as far as labelling it "hell". At first glance, that sounded like nothing more than South Africans being soft, as they have often proved when they travel through the continent.

This time, they had a point. Cameramen from their national broadcaster, the SABC, were prevented from filming in the stadium. Two crew members were kicked out of the venue and arrested while another's cellphone sim card was confiscated.

Conspiracy theorists quickly conjured up the explanation that Mazembe officials did not want their opponents' fans to be able to see the match because it was marred by dodgy officiating. Pirates' captain Lucky Lekgwati was sent off for bringing down Tresor Mputu. Lekgwati called it a "joke" and said Mputu simply fell down next to him. But he would say that, wouldn't he?

The two spot-kicks given in Mazembe's favour contributed to South Africans' unhappiness at the way their team was treated. Since nobody in the country has seen any of the footage, their point cannot be disputed with any certainty.

The solace they can take from the weekend is that Pirates prevailed and will play in the tournament proper for the first time since 2001. They are the only South African club to have won the Champions League – back in 1995 – and a repeat will do wonders for the reputation of the country's game.

Already, the region as a whole is well represented. Southern Africa has two teams in the main draw with Angola's Recreativo do Libolo also qualifying. They accounted for Nigeria's last hope in the event, Enugu Rangers. After the first leg yielded only a goalless draw, the second became a winner takes all affair and Recreativo made the first move.

They led 2-nil before ANC hero Sunday Mba brought Rangers back into the game with a long-range shot. A penalty sealed the Nigerians' fate when Dario slotted home his second to relegate Rangers to the Confederation Cup.

This is Recreativos's first appearance in the group phase of the competition. Similarly, Ivorian champions Sewe Sports also confirmed a maiden spot in the main draw. They drew both home and away with FUS Rabat and qualified on virtue of the away goal in Morocco.

AC Leopards were the first team to qualify for the group stages after an eventful encounter against ES Setif. The Congolese side beat their Algerian counterparts 3-1 at home and then lost 3-1 away. A penalty shootout separated them. Leopards won last year's Confederation Cup and their entrance into the group stage of the Champions League is further proof that their country's football is on the rise.

North African giants Al-Ahly, Zamalek and Esperance all qualified but it is not as simple as they may have wanted. Al-Ahly drew with Bizerten in the first leg in Tunisia but beat them 2-1 at home, while Esperance also needed a win in the second leg over JSM Bejaia.

Zamalek took the most difficult route. They were held to draws against feisty Ethiopian side Saint George in both legs and only made it through thanks to away goals. No Ethiopian side has qualified for the main draw of the Champions League and they will have to wait for next year to change that.

The eight qualified teams:
•Recreativo do Libolo
•Coton Sport
•AC Leopards
•Sewe Sport
•Al-Ahly
•Zamalek
•Orlando Pirates
•Esperance

The teams will be divided into two groups of four for the main tournament with the draw taking place in Cairo on Tuesday, May 7.

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