JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Trophy-holders Esperance of Tunisia exited the CAF Champions League on Friday despite a 1-0 quarter-final second leg win over Zamalek of Egypt through an early Billel Bensaha penalty.
Zamalek took a 3-1 lead into the return match and qualified 3-2 on aggregate to meet Raja Casablanca of Morocco or TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the semi-finals during May.
Raja hold a 2-0 aggregate advantage over Mazembe ahead of the second leg in southern Congolese city Lubumbashi last Saturday.
Two unanswered goals would have taken Esperance through on away goals and they could not have wished for a better start near Tunis with Algerian Bensaha giving them a fifth-minute lead.
The winger held his nerve in the 60,000-seat Stade Olympique de Rades on the outskirts of the Tunisian capital to plant the ball into the middle of the goal as Mohamed Abou Gabal dived to his left.
A scuffle broke out immediately after the goal with Abou Gabal holding on to the ball while several Esperance players sought to take it from him and speed up the restart.
It was but one of many unpleasant incidents in a clash of two north Africans giants, who have won the Champions League nine times between them.
Five Zamalek and three Esperance players received yellow cards and 56 fouls were committed, resulting in a stop-start match with little rhythm.
Despite the boost of the early goal, Esperance were unable to score again against a Zamalek rearguard in which Mahmoud ‘El Wensh’ Hamdy starred. With Esperance failing after winning the 2018 and 2019 finals, Tunisian hopes of keeping the trophy in the country rest with Etoile Sahel from Mediterranean resort Sousse.
Etoile host Wydad Casablanca of Morocco Saturday in Rades because their ground is being renovated and trail 2-0 from the first leg.
In the other quarter-final, record eight-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt hold a 2-0 advantage over Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa with the sides meeting again near Pretoria.
Remarkably, left-backs were the first-leg scorers for Wydad and Ahly with Mohamed Nahiri and Ali Maaloul respectively bagging braces.