North African club football giants Ahly of Egypt and Esperance of Tunisia took control of the 2012 CAF Champions League at the weekend with contrasting match-day 3 home victories.
Ahly raised their game after two narrow Group B wins to whip surprise side Berekum Chelsea of Ghana 4-1 in Cairo with a second-half Walid Soliman brace completing the show of force.
Title holders Esperance had to rely on the penalty-taking skills of Khaled Mouelhi to pip compatriots Etoile Sahel in Tunis with his late first-half goal separating the Group A rivals.
It was a weekend of home victories with TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo overcoming Zamalek of Egypt 2-0 in Lubumbashi and Sunshine Stars of Nigeria winning by a similar score againt ASO Chlef of Algeria in Ijebu Ode.
Ahly have nine points, Mazembe and Chelsea four and Zamalek none halfway through the mini-league phase and the position is identical in the other pool with Esperance on nine, Sunshine and Etoile four and Chlef pointless.
It looks like Ahly and Esperance are going to top the tables while the final-round fixtures between Chelsea and Mazembe in Ghana and Sunshine and Etoile in Nigeria could decide the other semi-finalists.
Record six-time champions Ahly lacked stars Ahmed Fathy, Mohamed Aboutrika and Emad Moteab, who were on Olympic Games duty in England, for the clash with upstarts Chelsea.
They had to play behind closed doors with spectators barred from CAF fixtures since 74 people died in rioting after a domestic match involving Ahly in Port Said last February.
The Egyptian players also had to cope with the challenges of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with no drink or food permitted between sunrise and sunset.
But some of the skills displayed by Ahly deserved a large audience rather than rows of empty seats at the 35,000-seat Military Academy Stadium with the clinical finishing of Soliman particularly impressive.
Victory for Ahly gave Egyptians belated cause for celebration after the elimination of the Olympic team by Japan and the continued poor form of five-time African champions Zamalek.
While Chelsea finished well beaten, Emmanuel Clottey raised his Champions League goal tally to 12, six more than nearest rivals Aboutrika and Mazembe captain Mabi Mputu.
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