JOHANNESBURG – AN EXQUISITE goal by Thabo Rakhale gave Orlando Pirates a 1-0 victory at CS Sfaxien of Tunisia and a great chance of reaching the CAF Confederation Cup semi-finals.
The lanky winger struck two minutes after half-time at Stade Taieb Mhiri in the Mediterranean industrial city of Sfax at the weekend to secure three Group B matchday 3 points for the Soweto side.
Rakhale dispossessed a Tunisian, dribbled to the edge of the box, and delicately lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Rami Jeridi, who had strayed off his line.
It was the latest in a string of superb goals scored during the mini-league phase of the second-tier African club competition.
And it put 1995 African champions Pirates in a strong position to reach the semi-finals of a Cup offering a $660,000 (600,000 euros) first prize.
Zamalek of Egypt, winners at Pirates during the previous matchday, triumphed 2-0 against Congolese visitors AC Leopards to remain top of the table with nine ponts.
Pirates have six points from away victories at 2012 Confederation Cup winners Leopards and record three-time winners Sfaxien.
Sfaxien and Leopards have just one point each with the Tunisians in deepest trouble as only one of their remaining three fixtures is at home.
A troubled build-up to the Sfax game included scuffles between Tunisian players and supporters at training and Portuguese coach Paulo Duarte threatening to quit over a lack of transfer activity.
Sfaxien looked a shadow of the teams that won the 2007, 2008 and 2013 Confederation Cup finals, failing to take advantage of several edge-of-the-box free-kicks.
It was the first home group loss suffered by the North Africans, who were fortunate not to concede another goal late in the game as a header from substitute Kermit Erasmus struck the woodwork.
Sfaxien also surrendered an unbeaten CAF record against South African clubs, having won four previous games and drawn two when they faced Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Platinum Stars.
Bassem Morsy scored for Zamalek after two minutes at the Petro Sport Stadium in Cairo and Aymen Hefny converted a penalty before half-time.
An Egyptian club also top Group A after a Walid Soliman volley on 36 minutes gave title-holders Al Ahly a 1-0 win over Tunisians visitors Etoile Sahel in Suez, 125 kilometres east of Cairo.
Ahly have seven points after three rounds, Etoile six, Malians Stade Malien four and Tunisians Esperance none.
A disastrous weekend for Tunisian clubs included Esperance slumping 2-1 at home to Malien, who played the second half with 10 men but won via a Mamadou Coulibaly goal soon after half-time.