JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Dec 29 – A stunning victory for Al Hilal of Sudan and an Ayoub el Kaabi hat-trick for Wydad Casablanca of Morocco were the CAF Champions League matchday three highlights on Saturday.
Hilal won a group game in the elite African club competition for the first time after 22 failed attempts from 2007 by shocking Etoile Sahel of Tunisia 1-0 in Rades.
Athar el Tahir scored the match-winner on 59 minutes by rifling a low shot past Achraf Krir and into the corner of the net after a neat three-man build-up.
The triumph lifted Hilal to first place in Group B, ahead of Al Ahly of Egypt and Etoile on head-to-head records as the three contenders have six points each.
With home fixtures to come against Etoile and Ahly, a Hilal team coached by Egyptian Hamada Sedki can entertain realistic hopes of a top-two finish and a quarter-finals place.
Based in Omdurman, a city on the western bank of the River Nile opposite the Sudanese capital Khartoum, Hilal are trying for the 33rd time to win the top African club prize.
They came closest in 1987 and 1992, losing two-leg finals against Ahly and Wydad respectively 2-0 on aggregate.
Walid Soliman, the 35-year-old Ahly veteran, scored in each half to earn the record eight-time African champions a 2-0 win over pointless Platinum of Zimbabwe in Cairo.
– Electric atmosphere –
Meanwhile, China-based Moroccan El Kaabi ended a loan spell at Wydad with a treble as Wydad finished 4-1 winners over Petro Luanda of Angola in an electric Casablanca atmosphere.
Against a backdrop of singing, flag-waving supporters, Wydad were stung midway through the second half when Brazilian Antonio ‘Tony’ Ribeiro equalised.
But El Kaabi netted a second time to put Wydad ahead again on 79 minutes and completed the scoring after Wilson Carmo conceded an own-goal.
Despite the convincing victory, two-time champions Wydad remained second in Group C, two points behind leaders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa.
USM Alger of Algeria have two points and Petro one and it is difficult to imagine either club qualifying at the expense of 2016 champions Sundowns and Wydad.
Sundowns punished woeful defending to win 1-0 away to USM in Blida with captain Hlompho Kekana marking his 300th appearance for the club with the 59th-minute winner.
Mustapha Kheiraoui struck a back pass to captain and goalkeeper Mohamed Zemmamouche far too weakly and 34-year-old Kekana darted forward to secure possession and score.
In Group A, Zesco United of Zambia suffered a setback when held 1-1 in Ndola by Zamalek of Egypt, who led thanks to Mostafa Mohamed for six minutes before Quadri Kola levelled.
TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo top the table with seven points, Zamalek have four, and Zesco and Primeiro Agosto of Angola two each.