Egyptian giants Al Ahly returned to the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in two years with a shock 3-2 defeat away to Zambia’s Zesco United on Saturday.
Ahly, the eight-time winners coached by former Tottenham manager Martin Jol (pictured), were determined to make up for recent disappointments in Africa’s premier club competition.
But Zesco United, who have never got beyond the group stage, upset the Red Devils with a famous home victory in Ndola.
Midfielder John Chingandu put the Zambian side ahead with a goal after 27 minutes, only for Ahly to equalise three minutes later through Ghana striker John Antwi.
It took just five minutes of the second half for the hosts to regain the lead, as Clatous Chama scored after 50 minutes and then again after 56 to give the Zambians a 3-1 lead.
Ahly tried to claw their way back in, and they were rewarded with another Antwi goal after 67 minutes.
Despite a nervous finale, the hosts held on to upset the Egyptians and go top of the standings.
Later on Saturday in Group A Wydad Casablanca, who knocked out the defending champions TP Mazembe in the play-off round, are away to Asec Mimosas in their first match.
The Moroccans were runners-up the last time they competed in the competition in 2011. The Côte d’Ivoire side has been trying to strengthen their squad by signing Ghanaian Yahaya Mohammed from Aduana Stars, though their attempts have to now been unsuccessful.
And in Group B South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns are still in contention following the disqualification of AS Vita Club, who fielded an ineligible player.
“We have been given a second chance in the Champions League and have to show that we deserve to be there,” said Khama Billiat.
The Zimbabwean international and his team will travel to Algeria for their opening game against 2014 champions ES Setif.
“Playing against the biggest sides in the competition is always exciting for any player because that’s where you really get the opportunity to test yourselves individually and as a collective,” Billiat added.
The other match in the group sees two-time champions Enyimba at home in Port Harcourt to Zamalek, who have won the showpiece event of African football five times, although their last success dates back to 2002.
Enyimba goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai is aware that they are taking on a strong opponent.
“They have won the competition several times and they will be coming with a lot of confidence and experience and we must be ready for that,” Afelokhai said. “But we hope to start the competition well by winning.”
The Egyptians, who travel to Nigeria with a new coach in Mohamed Helmy after former Scotland coach Alex McLeish parted ways with the Cairo giants after just 65 days, have all but lost their Egyptian title to rivals Al Ahly and now seek consolation from the Champions League.
Helmy was disappointed the way his side gave away two late goals late in their league match on the weekend.
“Players have to learn from conceding two goals during the El-Shorta game as the game was ours to lose,” Helmy said. “It is a good lesson for the players ahead of the Champions League game. Enyimba is expected to be very difficult so we have to concentrate on the game.”