CAIRO: Record six-time winners Al-Ahly of Egypt and title holders TP Mazembe of Democratic Republic of Congo reached the African Champions League semi-finals Sunday with narrow home victories.
Mazembe held off Dynamos of Zimbabwe in a tense Lubumbashi climax to win 2-1 and Ahly won by a similar score against 2009 runners-up Heartland of Nigeria at Cairo Stadium.
Egyptian ‘Red Devils’ and the Congolese ‘Crows’ join team-of-the-moment JS Kabylie of Algeria and Esperance of Tunisia in the last four of a competition offering a $1.5-million-dollar first prize.
Whoever emerges victorious in November after the two-leg final also goes to the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates the following month where more riches await plus a possible tilt at European champions Inter Milan.
Runaway Group B winners Kabylie will face the Group A runners-up — probably Mazembe — and the other tie is likely to pit North African giants Esperance and Ahly against each other.
Victory was a massive relief for under-pressure Ahly coach Hossam Al-Badry after plastic bottles were hurled at his team when Kabylie forced a draw in Egypt two weeks ago despite playing half the game with 10 men.
Midfielder Ahmed Fathy broke the deadlock midway through the first half and striker Mohamed Fadl added a second goal six minutes into the second half only for Nigerian midfielder Emmanuel Nwachi to pull one back almost immediately.
But the ‘Naze Millionaires’ from the south-east city of Owerri have found scoring difficult in the group phase and could not snatch the equalizer that would have kept alive hopes of a second successive last-four appearance.
Mazembe could not translate their superiority into goals during the first half on the artificial Kenya Stadium pitch against opponents lacking seven players due to suspension and injury.
The pressure finally told in the early stages of the second half when the three-time African champions struck twice within four minutes via midfielder Alain Kaluyituka and Zambia-born striker Given Singuluma.
Thabani Kamusoko halved the deficit six minutes from full-time but there was no reprieve for Dynamos who have been eliminated with Entente Setif of Algeria, Heartland and Ismailia of Egypt.
Mazembe entered the match under a cloud after Franco-Italian coach Diego Garzitto reportedly walked out and Senegal-born technical director Lamine Ndiaye was named caretaker.
And world football governing body FIFA recently imposed a one-year ban on talismanic captain Mabi Mputu and an 11-month suspension on fellow midfielder Basisila Lusadisu after incidents during a regional championship match.
Setif went down fighting as they took an early lead and snatched a late equalizer to hold Esperance 2-2 at Rades near Tunis, the first African side to achieve that feat this year.
New striker Youcef Ghazali raised his tally to three goals from two outings with a brace while Oussama Darragi leveled before half-time for the ‘Blood and Gold’ and another midfielder Mejdi Traoui nudged the Tunisians in front.
Kabylie claimed a 1-0 victory for the fourth time in five outings thanks to a goal from Nigeria-born substitute striker Izu Azuka with four minutes left of tight home clash against Ismailia in Tizi-Ouzou.
Nigerian player of Heartland FC Damien Ude (C) competes with Egyptian Al-Ahly player Mohamed "Gedo" Nagy during their African Champions League football match. (AFP Photo/STR)