Record three-time trophy-holders CS Sfaxien of Tunisia and Renaissance Berkane of Morocco won at home Sunday to become the first qualifiers for the CAF Confederation Cup quarter-finals.
Sfaxien defeated fellow Tunisians Etoile Sahel 2-1 in Mediterranean city Sfax with Nassim Hnid converting a 77th-minute penalty to secure maximum points for the local side.
Renaissance had it much easier against Congo Brazzaville visitors AS Otoho Oyo in Berkane with Togolese Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba scoring after only six minutes to set up a 3-0 triumph.
The remaining six places will be filled in the final matchday on March 17 with 13 clubs in contention and Zesco United of Zambia the only side who cannot make it.
Sfaxien completed a Group B double over Etoile to raise hopes of winning the second-tier African club competition again after successes in 2007, 2008 and 2013.
Firas Chaouat of Sfaxien broke the deadlock on 58 minutes and Etoile reacted swiftly, equalising within four minutes through Saddam Ben Aziza.
After regaining the lead, Sfaxien had to play the final seven minutes with 10 men after Mohamed Ali Moncer was red-carded.
Despite losing, Etoile are also likely to reach the knockout phase as closest rivals Enugu Rangers of Nigeria drew 1-1 away to Burkina Faso academy club Salitas FC in Ouagadougou.
Enugu overcame the sending off of Semiu Liadi on 29 minutes to take a first-half lead through George Ifeanyi, but Iliasse Sawadogo levelled with the first Salitas goal in five group games.
Sfaxien have nine points from five matches, twice Confederation Cup winners Etoile seven, Enugu five and Salitas four.
Berkane reached the Confederation Cup quarter-finals last season and have dominated Group A, which includes fellow Moroccan outfits Hassania Agadir and trophy-holders Raja Casablanca.
Laba netted his fifth goal of the campaign and Salman el Haj and Abdessamad el Mobaraky their first as Berkane outclassed Otoho, who remained second despite just one win in five outings.
Raja had hopes of survival significantly reduced after being held 0-0 at home by Hassania in Rabat, leaving the six-time CAF title winners without a victory in the section.
Berkane have 11 points, Otoho and Hassania five each with the Congolese second on head-to-head records, and Raja four.
Zamalek of Egypt trounced Gor Mahia of Kenya 4-0 on a badly cut-up pitch near Alexandria to rise from last to first in Group D.
Centre-back Mahmoud Alaa came forward to powerfully nod a free-kick into the net on 12 minutes and Youssef ‘Obama’ Ibrahim doubled the lead midway through the opening half.
Late goals from Tunisian Ferjani Sassi, after dribbling past several defenders and rounding goalkeeper Fredrick Odhiambo, and Omar el Said completed the rout.
Zamalek top the table with eight points, Petro Atletico of Angola and NA Hussein Dey of Algeria have seven each and Gor six.
Nkana joy at hammering fellow Zambians Zesco 3-0 in Group C was heightened when Asante Kotoko of Ghana and Al Hilal of Sudan drew 1-1 later in Kumasi.
The Ghana stalemate kept Nkana in top spot on nine points, Hilal have eight, former African champions Kotoko seven and Zesco four.
Although Nkana conclude their schedule with a tricky trip to Hilal, the Kitwe club will go through whatever the result provided Kotoko do not win at Zesco.
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