Sundowns, Esperance, Etoile reach last eight
Johannesburg, South Africa | AFP | Title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia became the first qualifiers for the CAF Champions League quarter-finals Saturday.
Gangling Liberian Anthony Laffor scored five minutes from time to earn Sundowns a 1-0 Group C victory over Saint George of Ethiopia in a packed 30,000-capacity Addis Ababa stadium.
Saint George, the first Ethiopian side to reach the group stage of the premier African club competition, wasted a great chance to take the lead on the stroke of half-time.
Sundowns defender Anele Ngcongca handled the ball inside the box, but a timidly struck penalty from leading 2017 Champions League scorer Saladin Said was parried to safety by Denis Onyango.
Esperance led and trailed against V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa during a 2-2 draw in which home player Makwekwe Kupa was red-carded just before the hour.
Tunisian Taha Yassine Khenissi continued hot form for club and country by scoring on 10 minutes in the Stade des Martyrs, one of the most intimidating African football cauldrons.
Tady Etekiama, who once served a two-year ban for falsifying his age and using a fake passport, bagged a brace within eight minutes and V Club led 2-1 at half-time.
Needing maximum points to keep alive hopes of squeezing into the quarter-finals after the final round next weekend, V Club were hit by a double blow.
Kupa was sent off and Esperance levelled almost immediately when Khenissi converted a penalty.
Esperance have nine points, Sundowns eight, Saint George five and V Club four with the South Africans assured of a top-two finish on head-to-head records.
Etoile Sahel drew a third consecutive Group A game, but the 1-1 stalemate with Ferroviario Beira in Mozambique was sufficient to ensure a quarter-finals berth.
Chelito Omar gave Ferroviario a 72nd-minute lead and Slim Ben Belgacem equalised by converting a penalty six minutes from time.
In the other match in the group, a Mohamed Abdel Rahman brace gave Al Merrikh a 2-1 victory over Al Hilal in a clash of Sudanese giants.
Former champions Etoile have nine points, Merrikh seven, Ferroviario five and twice runners-up Hilal four.
There is a gripping three-club Group D struggle for two last-eight places after Zanaco of Zambia and Al Ahly of Egypt drew 0-0 and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco won 2-0 at Coton Sport of Cameroon.
Goals from Achraf Bencharki in the first half and Naim Aarab in the second gave Wydad victory and Coton finished with 10 men after Abdoulaye Alingar was red-carded.
Zanaco have 11 points, Wydad nine and record eight-time champions Ahly eight while Coton are pointless after five straight defeats.
A 1-1 draw between Al Ahly Tripoli of Libya and USM Alger of Algeria means both clubs and Zamalek of Egypt and CAPS United of Zimbabwe, who meet in Harare Sunday, can advance from Group B.
USM and Ahly Tripoli have eight points from five matches and five-time African champions Zamalek five and CAPS three from four.