CAF Champions League drama as South African, Eswatini clubs survive

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Benni McCarthy (Gallo Images)
Benni McCarthy (Gallo Images)

AmaZulu of South Africa staged a great comeback and Royal Leopard of Eswatini pulled off a shock overall victory in CAF Champions League preliminary round second legs this weekend.

Staring at elimination after a surprise 1-0 first-leg loss at home to Nyasa Big Bullets of Malawi last weekend, Durban-based AmaZulu rediscovered their scoring touch to win 3-1 away and march on.

A 3-2 aggregate victory earned the Champions League debutants a challenging round-of-32 clash in October against TP Mazembe, the Democratic Republic of Congo outfit who have won the competition five times.

AmaZulu coach Benni McCarthy, a 2004 UEFA Champions League winner as a player with Jose Mourinho-managed Porto, took his squad to Malawi against a gloomy backdrop.

The shock 2021 South African Premiership runners-up to Mamelodi Sundowns, after years of battling relegation, had scored just once in five outings in all competitions since the new season began.

McCarthy had also come under fire for calling Malawi a "jungle" and saying he had "never heard of Bullets", despite the club making six previous appearances in the elite African competition.

While McCarthy kept a low profile from the moment he set foot in the central African country, his team did the talking on the pitch in Lilongwe.

Recalled Bongi Ntuli converted a fourth-minute penalty and scored again after 11 minutes to give AmaZulu a two-goal lead on the day and an aggregate advantage.

Seal survival

Rattled Bullets scored three minutes into the second half through Henry Kabichi only for Siphelele Mthembu to restore the two-goal second-leg lead of the South African side soon after and seal survival.

Meanwhile, Leopard fell 2-1 away to 2016 semi-finalists Zesco United of Zambia in Ndola, but secured a place in the second and final qualifying round on away goals having won 1-0 at home.

Zesco scored first, through Zimbabwean Tafadzwa Rusike on 30 minutes, only to be rocked by an Andy Magagula equaliser just five minutes later.

Needing to score at least twice to progress, the hosts regained the lead through Zambian international Winston Kalengo four minutes into the second half.

Zesco were awarded a penalty on the hour, but Kenyan Jesse Were missed and Leopard held on to win a preliminary round tie for the first time after four failed attempts.

Leopard now tackle Esperanca Sagrada of Angola, who eliminated Platinum of Zimbabwe in a penalty shootout after 0-0 draws in Luanda and Harare.

Rivers United, who carry the hopes of Nigeria with Akwa United, had to wait 81 minutes before Uche Onwuasonaya scored to ensure they advanced at the expense of Tanzanian visitors Young Africans.

It was the only goal of the second leg in Port Harcourt, earning Rivers a second 1-0 win over the Dar es Salaam club, and booked a last-32 showdown with Sudanese side Al Hilal.

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After the opening weekend of URC action, what did you make of the South African struggles?
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It exposed the quality of South African rugby...
38% - 2097 votes
There were positives to take
7% - 367 votes
We shouldn't read too much into one weekend
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It will take the SA sides time to adjust to the new competition
39% - 2191 votes