African clubs turn to the Champions League

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Egypt's Al-Ahly beat Esperance de Tunis 2-1 in last year's finalGettyImagesThe race to lift the CAF Champions League trophy resumes

Sudanese club Al-Hilal have the highest mountain to climb of the 32 teams contesting the second leg of CAF Champions League first round qualifying phase. After losing 4-1 to Ivorian side Sewe Sports in March, Al-Hilal have to score three, unanswered goals at home to advance to the second round and stand a chance of appearing in the main draw.

The team from the Ivory Coast have never played in the tournament proper and all they need to do is hang on to change that, but Omdurman is an intimidating place and Diego Garzito's men are uncompromising. Al-Hilal top the Sudanese league even though they have not won in any of their last four matches. The form lies with Sewe, who won a fixture in the lead-up, but the need to protect and preserve reputation is Al-Hilal's job.

The same applies to South Africa's Orlando Pirates, who host Zambian champions Zanaco at the imposing Soccer City. Pirates are well behind in the title-race, seven points off the leaders Kaizer Chiefs and they have gone six games without victory.

Their last successful outing was in Lusaka where Ndumiso Mabena gave them a 1-0 advantage. Despite the away goal, it will be a tough lead to defend, especially against a side that have started the fighting talk. "There is no way they will beat us again," Keagan Mumba, Zanaco coach said.

Another team who are only a goal to the good is Zamalek, who travel to Kinchasa to play AS Vita. The first leg tie was best remembered for Ahmed Gafoor asking to be substituted after scoring what turned out to be the winner against the team from the DRC.

The country's other team TP Mazembe will host Botswana's Mochudi Centre Chiefs, with also only a single goal to their name. Tunisia's Esperance, who won in Angola in March, are in the same position against Primeiro de Agosto and so are Cameroon's Coton Sport, who host Ivorians AFAD Djekanou.

Results which may be seen as foregone conclusions are the CA Bizerten-Dynamos and FUS Rabat-Union Douala clash, which the Tunisians and Moroccons lead 3-0. Nigeria's Kano Pillars lead Congo's AC Leopards 4-1 which in a tie that may also have already been decided.

But that leaves plenty of room for excitement. Ethiopia's St George head to Bamako to face Malian champions Djoliba with a two-goal cushion. The East Africans are the most successful team in their country and have never made it into the main draw of the Champions League. The same goes for Kenya's Tuskers who only have to score once away from home against Al-Ahly to dump the defending champions out of the competition.

Sudan's other contenders, Al-Merrikh have to overturn a 2-1 deficit to prevent Recreativo do Libolo from ousting them, Cameroon's Casa Sport will need an away goal against Stade Malien to avoid the same and Burkina Faso's ASFA Yennenga will be desperate to hold on to their 2-1 advantage over Algeria's ES Setif.

The matches between Burundi's Vital'O and Nigeria's Enugu Rangers and Algeria's JSM Bejaia and Ghana's Asante Kotoko, who Asamoah Gyan recently indicated he would like to retire at, are winner takes all encounters.

While the action in the main competition will capture most of the attention this weekend, there is a significant event taking place elsewhere. In Benghazi, Libyans will welcome back their hosting rights when Al Nasr play FAR Rabat in the CAF Confederations Cup.

The ban on teams travelling to country was been in place since the revolution and was lifted late last month. Libya were forced to swap African Nations' Cup hosting rights with South Africa as a result of it but things now seem to be getting back on track for them. They are due to host the continental championships in 2017 and a new FA, the first with elected officials, is confident they will be up to the task.

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