Africa’s players were among the key protagonists in midweek during the Champions League third qualifying round first leg.
For this round, 20 league champions and 10 non-league champions are pitted against each other for the chance to move one step closer to the lucrative group stage.
There was significant attention on OGC Nice this week, after the French side – who finished third in Ligue 1 last season – were drawn against Dutch heavyweights Ajax in their first Champions League outing.
It was a tough draw for Lucien Favre’s side – the surprise package of the French top flight last term – not least because of Ajax’s aura as four-time European champions and their reaffirming run to the Europa League final last term.
However, Les Aiglons held their own, securing a 1-1 home draw after Donny van de Beek’s effort cancelled out Mario Balotelli’s opener.
Jean Michael Seri, the Ivorian midfielder who’s been heavily linked with a move away from the Allianz Riviera this summer, played the full 90 minutes, while Andre Onana of Cameroon and Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech both featured for Ajax.
Seri, in particular, was outstanding, passing astutely and driving past players effortlessly.
Indeed, it was his cross that led to Balotelli’s opener, and his performance should only fuel transfer rumours linking him with a move to the Premier League, where Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City have been named as suitors.
In another non-champions clash, Dieumerci Mbokani scored an outstanding goal – a spinning backheel – as Dynamo Kyiv cruised past Young Boys 3-1 at home to give themselves a strong chance of reaching the playoff round.
The excellent strike represents a significant turnaround for the Democratic Republic of Congo frontman, who was relegated on loan at Hull City last season and saw his season end early due to a hamstring injury.
Nigeria was particularly well represented in the third qualifying round, with several of the nation’s frontmen getting on the scoresheet – and offering a sign of encouragement for those who fear for the future of the Super Eagles’ attack.
In Belgium, Club Brugge secured a 3-3 home draw with Emmanuel Adebayor’s Istanbul Basaksehir, with Dennis Bonaventure opening the scoring, while Tony Nwakaeme opened the scoring for Hapoel Be’er Sheva as they downed Ludogorets Razgrad 2-0 at home.
Perhaps the biggest success story of the round was Emmanuel Emenike, who scored two minutes into his Olympiakos debut after coming off the bench to add a third in a 3-1 win away at Partizan Belgrade.
Comorian hitman El Fardou Ben Nabouhane made his first bow for the Greek giants to much less fanfare than Emenike – and two years after he signed for the club – but netted twice as Olympiakos, who can also call on the strength of Marko Marin, Mehdi Carcela and Alaixys Romao, took a major step towards the next round.
Elsewhere, Celtic new boy Olivier Ntcham played just over an hour for the Hoops as they were held 0-0 at home by Rosenborg, while Junior Kabananga and Patrick Twumasi were both on the scoresheet as Astana thumped Legia Warsaw 3-1 at home.