25 November 2012

Congo-Brazzaville: Leopards Complete Fairy Tale By Lifting Confederation Cup

AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville completed a CAF Confederation Cup fairytale on Sunday by defeating visiting Djoliba from Mali 2-1 to lift the trophy. The first leg of the second-tier Pan-African club championship final ended 2-2 last weekend giving Leopards a 4-3 aggregate victory and Congo-Brazzaville a first CAF club title in 38 years.

Cesaire Gandze broke the deadlock at Stade Denis Sassou Nguesso in the western city of Dolisie midway through the first half, only for Salif Coulibaly to level 11 minutes later. Rudy Guelord Bhebey-Ndey struck the winner on the stroke of half-time for Leopards, who were eliminated at the last-32 qualifying stage in two previous appearances. Gandze scored with a powerful drive from inside the penalty area and team-mate Ntela Kalema was foiled by the woodwork before Coulibaly headed home to claim his second goal in as many matches.

Bhebey-Ndey netted off an Ulrich Nzamba Mombo cross, and his fifth goal of the competition made him leading scorer with Ismaila Diarra from CO Bamako of Mali and Edward Sadomba of Sudanese side Al Hilal. Considered no-hopers when the competition for national cup winners, some league third-place finishers and eight CAF Champions League 'drop outs' began, the workman-like Leopards repeatedly defied the odds under coach Cyril N'Donga. They overcame Tempete Mocaf of the Central African Republic, CS Sfaxien of Tunisia, Heartland of Nigeria and title holders Moghreb Fes of Morocco in the group phase.

The Congolese finished second behind Djoliba and ahead of Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Stade Malien of Mali in a mini-league and upset title favourites Al Merreikh of Sudan in a tight semi-final.

Leopards pocketed $660,000 and a shot at Champions League winners Al Ahly of Egypt next year for the African Super Cup while Djoliba will return home $455,000 richer. Bamako-based Djoliba have been trying without success since 1967 to win a CAF competition, but gave a much better showing on a second visit to Dolisie in as many months having crumbled 3-0 in a group fixture. Other winners of the Confederation Cup include Sfaxien (twice), fellow Tunisians Etoile Sahel, FAR Rabat, FUS Rabat and Moghreb of Morocco, Hearts of Oak of Ghana and Stade Malien. CARA Brazzaville were the other Congolese club to conquer the continent, winning the 1974 African Champions League with 4-2 and 2-1 victories over Al Mehalla of Egypt in the two-leg final.

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