Africa Cup of Nations star Sunday Mba could not save Nigerian club Enugu Rangers from CAF Champions League elimination this weekend.
Enugu lost 3-1 at Recreativo Libolo of Angola in a last-16 second leg after a goalless first encounter and instead of a place in the lucrative group phase, dropped to the second-tier Confederation Cup.
Midfielder Mba was a revelation of the 2013 Cup of Nations in South Africa, scoring the winning goals in the final against Burkina Faso and the shock quarter-finals triumph over hotly fancied Ivory Coast.
But a transfer wrangle between Warri Wolves and Enugu prevented him playing for his new club until this weekend and he scored on debut at the Estadio Municipal in Calulo 380 kilometres south-east of Luanda.
Goals from Senegalese Henri Camara and Dario Cardoso gave Libolo a two-goal half-time advantage and Mba halved the deficit on 57 minutes with a scorching shot from outside the box.
But Cardoso converted a controversial penalty after goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim collided with Dorivaldo Dias 18 minutes from time to take Libolo into the mini-league stage for the first time.
"I am happy with my performance against Libolo and scoring was great," Mba told reporters. "However, the value of the goal was diluted by our failure to reach the group phase."
Enugu coach Okey Omordi, who led Enyimba to the 2004 Champions League title, had mixed feelings after the last Nigerian hope of glory in the premier African club competition this season vanished.
"There were some questionable calls from the referee -- particularly the penalty -- but I am satisfied with our display and we must prepare for the Confederation Cup play-offs."
AC Leopards became the first Congo Brazzaville club to reach the last eight of the Champions League thanks to a 5-4 penalty shootout victory over Entente Setif in Algeria.
Leading 3-1 from the first leg, 2012 Confederation Cup winners Leopards lost the return match by the same score with Mourad Delhoum taking the game to spot kicks by netting two minutes into stoppage time.
Esperance of Tunisia, champions once and runners-up twice in the past three editions, endured 77 anxious minutes before Khalil Chammam converted the penalty that earned his club a 1-0 win on the night and on aggregate.
Sewe San Pedro of Ivory Coast are also through the last eight for the first time after a 0-0 stalemate against Moroccan visitors FUS Rabat in Abidjan gave them a place on the away-goal rule.
There were no goals with between Stade Malien of Mali and 2008 Champions League runners-up Coton Sport of Cameroon in Bamako, leaving the visitors convincing 3-0 overall victors.