Pillars crumble as Leopards squeeze through

AC Leopards players at the start of their match against Sudan's al-Merreikh Khartoum on November 10, 2012.  By Ebrahim Hamid (AFP/File)

AC Leopards players at the start of their match against Sudan’s al-Merreikh Khartoum on November 10, 2012. By Ebrahim Hamid (AFP/File)

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Congo Brazzaville football club AC Leopards demonstrated remarkable fighting spirit at the weekend to snatch a place among the last 16 of the CAF Champions League.

Written off after a 4-1 drubbing from Kano Pillars in Nigeria three weeks ago, Leopards converted a stoppage-time penalty at home to triumph 3-0 and squeeze through on the away-goal rule.

It was another example of the never-say-die attitude of the Leopards from provincial city Dolisie which enabled them to win the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup against massive odds last year.

But while Leopards celebrated securing a final qualifying round date with Entente Setif of Algeria this month, Pillars were furious at the handling of the game by the Ivory Coast referee.

“This was daylight robbery,” complained Kano official Idris Malikawa to reporters. “African football is doomed if we do not stamp out this biased handling of matches.”

Nigerian clubs have bitter memories of Stade Denis Sassou Nguesso in Dolisie, with Heartland losing a Confederation Cup tie there last year after conceding a stoppage-time goal.

The other Nigerian contenders in the 2013 Champions League did advance without difficulty as a couple of early goals set up Enugu Rangers for a 2-0 victory on the day and on aggregate over Vital’O of Burundi.

Uche Oguchi converted a third-minute penalty and a fierce Efe Yarhere drive on 16 minutes settled with tie with Rangers rattling the woodwork and missing some clearcut scoring chances after half-time.

Former champions Asante Kotoko of Ghana made a shock exit on the away-goal rule after only drawing 1-1 at home against JSM Bejaia of Algeria following a goalless first leg.

Michael Akuffo put the Ghanaian Porcupine Warriors ahead just before the break and sustained second half pressure from Bejaia paid off when Mohamed Derrag equalised.

The match passed without incident after a bitter build-up with Kotoko angered by their treatment in Algeria, including being forced to travel by road instead of flying, and a lack of running water and heaters in hotel rooms.

Defending champions Al-Ahly of Egypt scored twice in the first half through Ahmed Abdul Zaher and Emad Moteab to defeat Kenyan visitors Tusker 2-0 before a 3,000 crowd at the vast Borg El Arab stadium in Alexandria.

Ahly, who took a 2-1 advantage into the return match, were seldom troubled and the winning margin would have been wider had substitute Dominique da Silva not had a late penalty saved by impressive Boniface Oluoch.

Although the crowd was outnumbered by security forces amid post-Arab Spring security concerns, several firecrackers were flung on to the pitch, raising concerns that the competition organisers may take disciplinary action.

TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo, winners of the Champions League four times, crushed Mochudi Centre Chiefs of Botswana 6-0 in Lubumbashi with Rainford Kalaba and Tresor Mputu scoring twice each.

Saint George of Ethiopia, CA Bizertin of Tunisia, FUS Rabat of Morocco and Coton Sport of Cameroon also advanced with fixtures scheduled for the weekends of April 19-21 and May 3-5.