Zougoula hat-trick lifts Ivorians to the top

Kevin Zougoula scored a CAF Champions League hat-trick this weekend as Ivory Coast club Sewe San Pedro made a winning Group B debut.

The 1.65-metre striker struck all his goals during the first half of a 3-1 home triumph that ended the seven-match unbeaten run of Angolans Recreativo Libolo this year.

Victory lifted Sewe to the top of the table, ahead of twice title-holders Esperance of Tunisia and Libolo on goal difference with the trio having three points each.

Esperance, champions once and runners-up twice in the past three editions, scored twice during the second half to overcome Coton Sport of Cameroon 2-0 in Tunis.

Zougoula, 25, is in top form having bagged a brace last weekend for Ivory Coast in an African Nations Championship victory against Nigeria.

And he returned to Stade Robert Champroux in Ivorian commercial capital Abidjan seven days later to torment a Libolo side fresh from toppling Esperance.

Ousmane Ouattara set up Zougoula to open the scoring midway through the first half only for Cape Verdean Sidnei to equalise 10 minutes later.

But after Burkinabe Ocansey Mandela missed a chance to nudge San Pedro ahead again, Zougoula netted twice to create a 3-1 half-time cushion.

His second goal came from a close-range shot and he fired a penalty past goalkeeper Landu after defender Edy upended Kako Rostand.

Libolo, who won five qualifiers and drew one before snatching a stoppage-time win over Esperance, did not capitalise on Sewe having a man sent off in the second half.

Pacome Agboke was given a straight red card on 68 minutes, but the closest Recreativo came to narrowing the gap was from an Antonio free-kick.

Sewe eliminated Horoya of Guinea, Al-Hilal of Sudan and FUS Rabat of Morocco to reach the mini-league stage of the leading CAF club competition for the first time.

They hope to become the third Ivorian club to conquer the continent after 1966 Champions Cup winners Stade Abidjan and 1998 Champions League winners ASEC Mimosas.

Esperance got back on the winning trail thanks to an improved second-half show in a game staged behind closed doors due to post-Arab Spring security concerns.

Midfielder Youcef Belaili sparkled for the 1994 and 2011 champions, scoring the first goal on the hour-mark and creating the second during stoppage time.

Clever footwork enabled him to strike a powerful shot past Coton Sport goalkeeper Loic Feudjou and his cross-field pass was volleyed into the net by fellow midfielder Iheb Msakni.

Both Group A fixtures are scheduled for later Sunday with title-holders Al-Ahly of Egypt hosting Orlando Pirates of South Africa and AC Leopards of Congo at home to Zamalek of Egypt.