Race to the main CAF draw underway

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Orlando Pirates fansGettyImagesIt's been 18 years since Orlando Pirates tasted continental glory in the CAF Champions League

Orlando Stadium will be the focus of Saturday's CAF Champions League second-round qualification as an injury hit Pirates take on continental giants TP Mazembe. The teams have not faced each other in 11 years. Since then, Mazembe have won the tournament twice and finished second at the Club World Cup while Pirates have failed to make their domestic form translate in continental competition.

Having fallen behind in the title race, Pirates have reputation, and results, to play for but may have to do so without six key players. Andile Jali, Oupa Manyisa, Siyabonga Sangweni, Thabo Matlaba and Sifiso Myeni are all fitness concerns while Mazembe have a full strength squad at their disposal.

Despite being underdogs, Pirates' fighting talk has begun. "When facing a team of this stature you automatically double your efforts in preparation for the encounter," Lucky Lekgwathi, their captain said. "We know what TP Mazembe are about and what they have achieved to date. We will respect them like we do all the opposition we face but by no means will we be intimidated."

The day's other two fixtures include a derby-of-sorts between Algeria's JSM Bejaia and Tunisia’s Esperance while Ethiopia's Saint George travel to Cairo to play Zamalek.

Sunday's bouquet will see the defending champions Al-Ahly chase an eighth title, and they may not even be required to play in the match to get there. They are due to travel to Tunisia to play CA Bizerten but the club suspended all football activity this week after a dispute with their country's FA.

Al-Ahly are well accustomed to such distractions and Hossam Al-Badry said it will have no impact on their plans. "I am not interested in what's being said about Bizertin fans riots or the club's announcement to suspend football," Al-Badry said. "Focusing on such non-football matters would surely distract the players ahead of such an important match."

In the Malian capital of Bamako, the match between Stade Malien and Cameroon's Coton Sport is expected to be a contest of strength and power as the two West African sides tussle. The hosts have defined progress to the main draw as one of the aims of the season and say they will be taking the match "much more seriously," than any other. Coton Sport go into the clash after two successive defeats in their league.

Also on the continent's west coast, Congo's AC Leopards will look to continue what has been a spectacular run for them since winnings last year's CAF Confederation Cup. They face Algeria's ES Setif and enter the contests as favourites, having scored six goals in their first round tie against Kano Pillars.

As a result of that, Nigeria have only one representative left in the last 16 – Enugu Rangers – who have a tricky assignment against Angolan club Recreativo do Libolo, who were knocked out of the tournament by Sunshine Stars, another Nigerian club, last year.

The Nigerians are backing themselves to win, especially because Recreativo have not had an easy time this season. They are bottom of their league standings so Rangers' midfielder Sunday Chinedu cannot be blamed for saying, "We are very prepared for the Angolans. I have read much about them but by God's grace, it will be an easy match for us in Enugu so as to make the return leg a mere formality. They will be hard to crack but surely they will succumb to our fire-power."

The last fixture will take place in Morocco where FUS Rabat play Ivorian side Sewe Sport. While Rabat cruised through to this round after a 3-0 home victory against Cameroon's Union Douala, Sere had to overcome an obdurate Al-Hilal, who they beat 4-1 at home but lost 3-1 away against. Sewe are fairly inexperienced at continental level but have been building slowly towards changing that. This weekend may be decisive in proving whether they have.

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