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Grading Africa's top teams after CAF Champions League group stage

The CAF Champions League group stage was concluded on Sunday evening, as the continent's top 16 teams were whittled down to eight ahead of September's quarterfinals.

The extended group stage proved to be a success, with only one group going into the final weekend with the identity of the progressing teams already confirmed - at least before the Sudan Football Association's suspension and their sides' subsequent disqualification.

Which of the continent's 16 teams over-performed during the group stage, and which left a lot to be desired?

KweséESPN review the CAF Champions League group stage and grade Africa's contenders.

Group A

Etoile du Sahel: Like their Tunisian counterparts Esperance, ESS got the job dune during the group stage, advancing unbeaten after taking control of the group with two wins in their first two matches. There's no doubt they're genuine contenders for the title, and their quarterfinal opponents - Al-Ahli Tripoli - must be wary of offensive duo Diogo Acosta and Hameur Bouazza. Grade: A-

Ferroviario Beira: It appeared farfetched to imagine first-timers Ferroviario Beira in the final eight after they began their group stage campaign with a 5-0 demolition at Etoile du Sahel. However, it's to their credit that they progressed, even with an assist from the Sudanese FA.

The home draw against Etoile du Sahel demonstrated how lessons had been learned, while they also took four points at home from the Omdurman duo. Grade: A-

Al-Merreikh had been in with a fighting chance of reaching the quarters before Sudanese teams were disqualified from CAF competition last week after defeating both the Mozambican minnows and bitter rivals Al-Hilal. That triumph, at least, with Mohamed Abdel Rahman Yousif netting twice, will have left a lasting impression. Grade: C

Al-Hilal: Even before the Sudanese duo were expelled from the competition, Al-Hilal appeared destined for an early exit. They hadn't won a game, and fell 2-1 away to their near neighbours at the end of June.

Perhaps they would have turned things around against Ferroviario Beira in their final game, but the campaign will remain one to forget. Grade: D

Group B

USM Alger were Champions League runners-up in 2015, and demonstrated much of the same nous they showed in that campaign as they took 11 points to qualify from Group B as winners. They set the tone with a 3-0 opening victory over Al-Ahli Tripoli, took four points from Zamalek and thumped CAPS United in their final group game. Grade: A-

Al-Ahli Tripoli continue to defy the odds and mix it up with some of the continent's big boys. Despite being forced to play their home games in Tunisia due to the state of domestic security, and with financial concerns still hanging over the club's head, they managed to compete due to the tenacity of chairman Sasi Abu Oun. Keen an eye on talented youngster Muaid Ellafi. Grade: A-

SC Zamalek: Another season of big underachievement for the White Knights, whose 15-year wait for a sixth continental crown will continue. Consecutive away defeats by USM Alger and CAPS United left them with much to do, and Al-Ahli Tripoli's 2-2 draw in Alexandria on Sunday prompted riots at the Borg el-Arab Stadium. Grade: D-

CAPS United were brave and bold in this year's competition, even if they ultimately didn't have enough to progress. The home victory over Zamalek - with Abbas Amidu scoring twice - will live long in the memory, even if their naivety showed in a pair of entertaining 4-2 defeats by Al-Ahli Tripoli. Grade: B

Group C

Esperance de Tunis advance as one of only two teams in the competition not to lose a match, and the progress in style as well, bookending their group stage campaign with convincing home wins over Vita Club and Saint George. Most impressive, perhaps was their Taha Yassine Khenissi-inspired away win at reigning champions Sundowns. 

Their fans couldn't have asked for much more, and they look every bit potential winners. Grade: A

Mamelodi Sundowns: Africa's champions struggled to flex their muscles during the group stage, and wholly lacked the panache they demonstrated in clinching the continental crown last season. Nonetheless, the grit that Pitso Mosimane has instilled in his side was evident in away wins at Vita Club and Saint George. Grade: B-

Saint George threatened progress to the knockout stages after going unbeaten in their first three matches, and by beating Vita Club at home. In comparison to the Ethiopian national side - and their famously brittle defence - Saint George staged shutouts against each of their group opponents.

However, they lost their way in the second half of the campaign and were dumped out with a whimper after a 4-0 rout by Esperance. Grade: C+

AS Vita Club: After losing their first three matches, Les Dauphins Noirs staged an unlikely comeback by taking five points from their last three. It wasn't enough to see them through, but Tady Etekiama at least left the fans with some memories after scoring braces against Saint George and Esperance. Grade: C

Group D

Wydad Casablanca: The Moroccan heavyweights - and 1992 African champions - sneaked into the final eight after edging past Zanaco in their final group game, winning 1-0 thanks to Achraf Bencharki's second-half strike. They demonstrated their nerve to overcome back-t0-back defeats by Zanaco and Ahly, and are a force to be reckoned with. Grade: B+

Al-Ahly: There's a genuine sense that Ahly haven't come anywhere close to their best yet this tournament, but their experience saw them through to the next round. The loss of striker Amr Gamal - reportedly wanted by Bivest Wits - would be costly, but expect Ahly to come back much stronger during the knockout stages. Grade: B-

Zanaco won't quite believe how they let progression slip through their fingers. They were unbeaten in their first five matches, having conceded one goal, and looked set to be the surprise package of the tournament. However, a failure to score in either game against Al-Ahly arguably cost them, and a defeat by Wydad Casablanca in their last match cost them progression.

Still, there are lots of positives for the Zambians to take away from their campaign. Grade: B-

Coton Sport: It was a dismal group-stage showing by the Cameroonian heavyweights, who were the first team eliminated and ended the opening round with zero points. They scored just two goals, conceded 12, and are almost the only evidence that an extended group stage wasn't such a good ideal. Grade: F


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