A controversial goal set title holders TP Mazembe of DR Congo on the road to a 5-0 drubbing of 10-man Esperance from Tunisia Sunday in the first leg of the African Champions League final.
The North Africans claimed an Ngandu Kasongo header did not cross the line after 18 minutes but the protests were ignored by the Togolese referee, who sent off defender Mohamed Mansour soon after.
Kasongo and Zambia-born Given Singuluma scored two goals each and Dioko Kaluyituka converted a penalty in Lubumbashi to render the mid-November return match virtually meaningless.
Mazembe attacked from the kick-off in hot conditions on a billiard-table smooth artificial surface at the 35,000-seat Kenya Stadium in the southern Congolese mining city.
The defending champions were also taking no chances with leading African Champions League scorer Michael Eneramo, who had two ‘minders’ whenever he moved near the ball.
Esperance survived only 18 minutes before falling behind as a Kasongo header off a free kick put Mazembe ahead amid protests from Tunisian players that the ball did not cross the line.
After Eneramo used his outstretched arm to score the goal that eliminated six-time champions Al-Ahly of Egypt in the semi-finals this month, the last thing African football needed was more controversy.
Not only were Esperance behind, but they struggled to contain a Mazembe team backed by a capacity crowd and committed seven fouls within 20 minutes of the match starting.
After a curling shot from midfielder and captain Oussama Darragi just missed the target midway through the half, Esperance were dealt another blow as Mansour was sent off.
The match official spotted an off-the-ball infringement and flashed his red card to incense Esperance coach Faouzi Benzarti, coach of the ‘Blood and Gold’ when they won the competition for the only time 16 years ago.
Walid Hicheri went close to levelling with a header off a corner and at the other end the woodwork robbed the home team of a second goal as they continued to dominate possession.
Darragi was replaced by defender Zied Derbali nine minutes before the break as Esperance opted for damage limitation and Nigeria-born Eneramo inherited the captaincy.
But packed defence from the North African could not prevent the defending champions increasing their lead in first-half stoppage time as leading club scorer Kaluyituka converted a penalty.
The Congolese midfielder claimed his seventh goal of the African campaign by sending goalkeeper Wassim Naouara the wrong way after Singuluma was fouled inside the area.
Esperance emerged from a lengthy half-time break to find themselves on the back foot again as Mazembe sought the additional goals that would make the November 13 second leg near Tunis academic.
A third goal arrived after 56 minutes courtesy of Singuluma, whose powerful near-post header gave the Tunisian goalkeeper no chance and the crowd began a victory party.
Singuluma scored again just two minutes later, turning well to fire home a fourth goal, and Kasongo completed the rout 16 minutes from the end of a game Esperance will want to forget quickly.