Kampala- For a team that made the group stages of the Confederation Cup just last year after coming short in the big brother Champions League, you could argue KCCA have made strides this season.
The 2017 national champions made the group stages of the big boys this year, giving themselves a shot at the last eight of the Champions League but with giants Esperance of Tunisia and Egypt’s Al Ahly in their way.
Like pool-mates KCCA, this was also the first time Botswana’s Township Rollers were making it to the group stage of the premier championship.
For the two, that was some feat. And going by the display against Esperance, KCCA might have surrendered six points to the Tunisians but their execution hardly embarrassed.
Their 2-0 win over Al Ahly in Kampala did not just make a statement. With it went coach Hossam el Badry, because in the Egyptian eyes, Ahly had sunk that low.
But while the emerging forces have reduced on the damage against the traditionally big boys on the pitch, giants still possess that knack of knowing how to do just enough to cross the line, as showed by Esperance over the two legs against KCCA.
And with just two matches to go in all four groups, the goliaths have taken early strides to the last eight.
In Group A, for example, four time finalists and two-time Champions League Winners – Esperance – advanced with two games to spare following Saturday’s 1-0 win over KCCA, thanks to Haythem Jouini’s first half goal.
Tunisians home and dry
The Tunisians’ qualification was confirmed after record eight-time champions Ahly beat Township Rollers in Botswana 1-0 courtesy of a Salif Coulibaly strike.
That moved Ahly to seven points, three fewer than Esperance. KCCA can only wrestle that remaining quarterfinal slot from Ahly if they beat the Egyptians in Egypt – which will be a first – and Township Rollers in Kampala.
“Of course now chances are slim but the belief is still there,” admitted KCCA manager Mike Mutebi after Saturday’s defeat, “We shall continue competing with the best and will try to win the remaining two games.”
TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Esperance joined another Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel – who top Group D – in the last eight after their 1-1 draw with Mouloudia Alger in Algiers ensured they would finish in the top two in Group B.
Etoile had earlier on Friday beaten Mbabane Swallows of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) 2-0 over on Friday. Between Mazembe and Etoile are six Champions League titles, five of them to the Congolese.
But it is Group C that will keep eyes glued as minnows AS Togo-Port and Guinea’s Horoya are shaking renowned African giants Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns.
Two-time winners Wydad top on eight points, three ahead of one-time champions Sundowns and defiant Horoya. The ties in August will be to savour.
MC Alger (Alg) 1-1 Mazembe (DRC)
Wydad (Mor) 2-0 Horoya (Gui)
T. Rollers (Bot) 0-1 Al Ahly (Egy)
KCCA (Uga) 0-1 Esperance Tunis (Tun)
Etoile (Tun) 2-0 Mbabane Swall. (Swa)
Mamelodi (RSA) 2-1 AS Togo-Port (Tog)
El Jadidi (Mor) 1-1 Setif (Alg)
Primeiro (Ang) 2-1 Zesco Utd (Zam)