African Champions League: Holders Esperance reach quarter-finals

Esperance
The 2018 African champions Esperance celebrate their triumph after victory over Al Ahly in last year's final.

Holders Esperance of Tunisia became the first team to qualify for this season's African Champions League quarter-finals after a 2-0 home win over Horoya of Guinea in their penultimate Group B match on Friday.

In Group A, Algeria's CS Constantine and the Democratic Republic of Congo's TP Mazembe both dropped points and will have to wait until the final group games to try and clinch a last-eight place.

The top two finishers in the four groups advance to the quarter-finals.

In Friday night's Group B match in Rades, Malian Hamed Assoko conceded an own-goal midway through the first half to put three-time African champions Esperance ahead against Guinea's Horoya.

Esperance needed a second goal to be sure of success and it arrived seven minutes from time through Cameroonian midfielder Franck Kom.

Victory for the Tunisian outfit maintained the last unbeaten record in the competition this season and guaranteed they will top the final standings.

Horoya's disappointed was softened by news that Orlando Pirates of South Africa were surprisingly held 2-2 at home by FC Platinum of Zimbabwe.

African Champions League Group BPoints after 5 matches
Esperance (Tunisia) 11 (Qualified)
Horoya (Guinea)7
Orlando Pirates (South Africa)6
FC Platinum (Zimbabwe)2

Horoya centre-back Assoko has scored four goals in the Champions League this season, but two have been own-goals with his latest misfortune coming in Tunisia.

Kom, a midfielder more accustomed to preventing goals than scoring them, scored his first of the campaign to ensure Esperance of a third consecutive two-goal home victory.

Given a bye to the group stage because of fixture congestion, the Tunisian club are hoping to become the first club since Al Ahly of Egypt in 2013 to achieve back-to-back titles.

In the night's other Group B match in South Africa, a Platinum side without a win in six qualifying and group matches were given little chance of dodging defeat to Pirates, the 1995 African champions.

But after Nelson Tigere missed a penalty, he put the Zimbabwean outfit ahead and Rainsome Pavori doubled the lead before half-time.

Platinum retained the two-goal advantage until nine minutes from time when unmarked Thembinkosi Lorch beat goalkeeper Petros Mhari at his near post with a low drive.

The goal galvanised the hosts and Zambian Augustine Mulenga slammed a loose ball into the net on 87 minutes to raise hopes of a dramatic victory.

Platinum survived a late onslaught, however, to end a run of three straight losses despite having centre-back defender Kevin Moyo sent off.

Group C

Group C leaders CS Constantine of Algeria surprisingly fell 1-0 at home to Club Africain of Tunisia and surrendered an eight-match unbeaten record.

Burkina Faso-born Bassirou Compaore scored on the stroke of half-time as the visitors avenged a home defeat by the Algerians in Group C two months ago.

The Algerian side, coached by Frenchman Denis Lavagne, had won six and drawn two qualifying and group matches before hosting Africain.

African Champions League Group CPoints after 5 matches
CS Constantine (Algeria)10
TP Mazembe (DR Congo)8
Club Africain (Tunisia)7
Ismaily (Egypt)2

In the same group, Ismaily of Egypt dropped out of contention for a quarter-finals place after being held 1-1 at home by five-time champions TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Despite the setback for Constantine and the failure of Mazembe to secure maximum points, they both remain likely to fill the top two positions and qualify for the quarter-finals.

Constantine, formed 120 years ago but competing in the elite pan-African club competition for only the second time, top the table with 10 points.

Mazembe have eight points, Club Africain seven and Ismaily two with one round remaining in the group phase.

A possible path for Club Africain into the last eight would be to trounce Ismaily in Tunisia next Saturday and hope Constantine suffer a heavy loss away to Mazembe.

Alternatively, if Mazembe fail to win in Lubumbashi, the Tunisians will progress by winning at home.

Ismaily, reinstated into the competition after an appeal, fell behind to Mazembe on 40 minutes when Elia Meschak netted for Mazembe in Alexandria.

But Abdelrahman Magdy scored his first Champions League goal since early December to bring the clubs level 10 minutes into the second half.

The game was moved from Ismailia to a military-controlled stadium in Alexandria to minimise the risk of crowd trouble.

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