Strong start for Etoile as new era of African Champions League kicks off
The newly expanded group phase of the African Champions League, featuring 16 teams this season, kicked off on Friday with a strong start for Tunisian clubs.
Etoile du Sahel, who are the only club to have won all five present and past continental club competitions, proved too strong for debutants Ferroviario Beira of Mozambique, winning 5-0 in Sousse in Group A.
Another Tunisian side, Esperance, began the new era of African Champions League football with a 3-1 win over DR Congo's AS Vita Club in Rades in Group C.
|African Champions League fixtures:|
|Group A:||Group B:|
|Fri: Etoile du Sahel 5-0 Ferroviario Beira||Fri: USM Alger 3-0 Al Ahly Tripoli|
|Fri: Al Hilal 1-1 Al Merreikh||Fri: Zamalek 2-0 CAPS Utd|
|Group C:||Group D:|
|Fri: Esperance 3-1 AS Vita Club||Sat: Al Ahly v Zanaco|
|Sat: Mamelodi Sundowns v St George||Fri: Wydad Casablanca 2-0 Coton Sport|
In other matches on Friday, Nigerian Stanley Okawuchi scored a late goal as Zamalek of Egypt beat CAPS United of Zimbabwe 2-0 in Alexandria.
Several squandered chances and acrobatic saves from CAPS goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda kept the Group B clash goal-less until half-time at the Borg Al Arab Stadium.
But Sibanda was at fault for both goals with Basem Morsy giving 2016 runners-up Zamalek the lead on 56 minutes and Nigeria's Stanley Okawuchi scoring seven minutes from time.
Zamalek lie second on goal difference in Group B after USM Alger of Algeria trounced Al Ahly Tripoli of Libya 3-0 in Algiers.
Headed goals from Farouk Chafai and Madagascan Carolus Andriamatsinoro gave 2015 runners-up USM a two-goal cushion by the break.
Oussama Darfalou completed the rout seven minutes from time by finding space inside the box and firing a low shot into the corner of the net.
On Saturday, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa continue the defence of their title as they host Ethiopia's Saint George.
Sundowns' coach Pitso Mosimane (pictured) says fixture fatigue could threaten their hopes.
Last year they became just the second South African winners of Africa's top club competition, beating Zamalek of Egypt 3-1 on aggregate in the final.
Mosimane, who played for and coached South Africa, says a fixture pile-up could affect his team.
"The Saint George players are sitting in the stand, resting and watching us," he said after a midweek domestic match in Pretoria.
"It is not easy fighting on the South African and African fronts. We are playing every three days or so and injuries and suspensions can wreck plans.The 52-year-old also accepts his side Sundowns have lost the element of surprise they enjoyed last year.
"That advantage has gone. Rivals clubs know who we are now and watch us on TV," he conceded.
"But we are more experienced than last year, have greater quality and depth in our squad, and know what Champions League football is all about."
Saint George, the first club from Ethiopia to make the group phase, won all four of their qualifiers and five-goal Saladin Said is the leading Champions League scorer this season.
Also on Saturday, eight-time winners Al Ahly of Egypt will be wary of Zanaco having come unstuck against another Zambian club, Zesco United, in the group stage last year, dropping five points.