CD Primeiro de Agosto are the surprise package in this year’s Caf Champions League, and after muscling their way into the semi-finals, they’ll be desperate to extend their dream campaign a little longer.
There were two shock victories in the Last Eight of Africa’s premier club competition last month, as Agosto dumped out five-time champions Tout Puissant Mazembe, while ES Setif of Algeria ousted reigning champions Wydad Casablanca.
On one hand, they’re victories that have blown the competition wide open, although some may argue that they’ve paved the way for Al-Ahly to clinch a record-extending ninth continental crown.
Agosto, certainly, won’t feel like their race is run, even if they’re firm outsiders when they face Tunisian giants Esperance, beginning with the first leg in Luanda on Tuesday.
Who are your favourites to win the 2018 @CAF_Online Champions League?— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) October 1, 2018
The Angolans not only dumped Mazembe out of continental competition, but they also did so in the ‘lion’s den’ of the Stade TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi.
Having held the Congolese giants 0-0 on their own turf, they then fell behind away in Congo, as Jackson Muleka’s 12th-minute opener gave the hosts the advantage.
However, this Agosto side don’t know when they’re beaten, and they equalised with a delicious 34th-minute free kick from Lompala Bokamba, who put the boot to his countrymen in some style.
After that, it was all Mazembe.
The continental heavyweights swung in an awesome number of crosses, many of which were repelled by an outstanding defensive showing—spearheaded by another DR Congo star Beaubo Ungenda—while goalkeeper Toni also denied the hosts twice from the penalty spot.
His second save, to deny Tresor Mputu a 50th Mazembe goal, gave the visitors the momentum required to get over the line and reach the final four on away goals.
After nullifying a Mazembe team who boasted an influential Nathan Sinkala and a rampant Ben Malango—even if he did miss the first spot kick—Agosto will feel ready for any comers.
They’ll certainly—quietly at least—fancy their chances against an Esperance side who edged past domestic rivals Etoile du Sahel in their Tunisian derby during the two legs of their quarter-final.
Ivorian midfielder Fousseny Coulibaly answered the critics with a late strike to kill any chances of ESS progression, with Esperance now looking like the most likely threat to Ahly.
However, their was a lack of coherence and fluidity in their performance against Etoile, and while the context of that contest cannot be overlooked, it will give Agosto hope that they too can stifle Mkachkha and become Angola’s first ever finalists.
The double-header will be a rematch of the 1998 Caf Cup Winners’ Cup between the duo, and while Esperance won 4-2 on aggregate on that occasion, they’ll find it tough to break down this Agosto back line quite so efficiently 20 years on.
The eliminations of both Mazembe and Wydad leaves Ahly as the overwhelming favourites for the title, and they certainly flexed their muscles by crushing Horoya 4-0 at home in the second leg of their quarter-final.
However, this isn’t a truly vintage Ahly side; they were held away in Guinea in the first leg, and it’s perhaps telling that 33-year-old Walid Soliman has arguably been their key man so far this campaign.
Despite Ahly’s dominance, they’ll be well tested by the unglamorous Setif, beginning with a first leg in Cairo on Tuesday.
The Algerians are two-time continental champions, having won the tournament in 1988 and 2014, but while they don’t quite possess the quality going forward that they did during those two triumphs, they still espouse some traditional values that have served them well to date.
Indeed, their elimination of Wydad was due largely to a masterful defensive display, in which they neutralised the threats, closed down space and defended resiliently throughout.
Admittedly, William Jebor was guilty of missing a series of fine chances, but with goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba in outstanding form, they were able to hold the reigning champions in Casablanca and sneak through thanks to their first-leg triumph.
Expect a similar gameplan against Ahly, where Setif, who have improved significantly after a slow start to the campaign, will feel they have momentum on their side to stymie their foe in Cairo and then get over the line in the return leg back in Algeria.
Setif’s previous continental successes mean that their presence in the final four doesn’t boast the kind of shock value of Agosto, both underdogs have the defensive quality and the game-management skills to keep their fires burning on their continental campaigns.