Published September 15, 2013
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Esperance secured a CAF Champions League semi-final place this weekend while Orlando Pirates suffered a setback trying to join them.
Cameroonian Yannick N'Djeng bagged a brace as Tunisian giants Esperance edged Angolan visitors Recreativo Libolo 3-2 in a matchday 5 Group B thriller.
The result avenged a shock loss in Angola and assured the 'Blood and Gold' of a fourth consecutive last-four appearance.
It was the fourth consecutive win by two-time African champions Esperance and lifted them to 12 points -- five more than second-place Coton Sport of Cameroon.
Coton are away to bottom-place Sewe San Pedro of Ivory Coast later Sunday and must win to keep alive hopes of pipping Esperance for top spot.
Libolo, who failed to carry impressive qualifying form into the mini-league phase, are out of the running for a knockout place.
And fellow group debutants Sewe will suffer a similar fate unless they can take maximum points off 2008 runners-up Coton in Abidjan.
N'Djeng, back in Tunis after an unsuccessful spell at Swiss club Sion, had Esperance ahead within three minutes, but there were no further first-half goals.
However, three were scored within the first 10 minutes of the second half as Portuguese Ruben Gouveia levelled, and after Oussama Darragi netted, equalised again.
Giant N'Djeng had the final say, scoring on 80 minutes to produce a result out of character with previous Esperance scorelines this season.
It was the first time in nine qualifying and group outings that the 2012 runners-up scored three times and the first time they conceded two goals.
Pirates, the only South African club to win the premier pan-African club competition, visited AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville seeking a win and a semi-final place.
But the Soweto outfit came away empty handed after a sizzling Dimitri Bissiki shot on 72 minutes earned the local club a 1-0 victory in Dolisie.
South African goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa failed to grasp a cross and when the ball ran loose outside the box, Bissiki unleashed a left-foot thunderbolt.
The win brought Leopards back into contention for a top-two finish in Group A ahead of a clash between Egyptian rivals Al-Ahly and Zamalek later Sunday.
Pirates remain top of the table on goal difference, but Leopards and Ahly also have seven points with Zamalek three points adrift.
A win for five-time African champions Zamalek over Ahly in Red Sea resort El-Gouna would see all four clubs enter the final round next weekend with seven points.
After an even first half in Dolisie, Leopards took control of a match spoilt by a poor pitch that had islands of lush grass amid a sea of rock-hard clay.
With passing an unwise option, the sides often resorted to route-one football, which suited the Congolese more than a South African side used to top-class domestic surfaces.
It was the second successive loss for the 1995 champions after they took early control of the group with three-goal triumphs away to Ahly and at home to Zamalek.
A concern for the South Africans is that if they finish level on points with the Congolese, Leopards have a head-to-head advantage having drawn in Soweto.