Princes of Egypt, Pirates and Leopards

Posted by Firdose Moonda

AFP/GettyImagesCairo rivals Al-Ahly and Zamalek will be pitted against each other in Group A of the CAF Champions League.

Derbies between Cairo's giants, Al-Ahly and Zamalek, will headline this year's CAF Champions League, even before it reaches the crucial stages. The Egyptian heavyweights were drawn in the same group for the tournament and are favourites to advance to the semi-finals out of Group A.

That's the tougher of the two pools on paper, if only because it has the bigger names with Orlando Pirates and AC Leopards expected to put up tough resistance. Football Africa examines the quartet that make up this section of the draw.

Al-Ahly

The continent's most well-known and best supported club, at least if you believe the marketing, will be making its 21st appearance in the main draw and aiming for their eighth crown. Last year, they won the title in spite of unusually difficult circumstances -- the Egyptian league had been suspended for months and the county was still swept up in post-revolution panic -- but Al-Ahly were undeterred.

Their main strength is their flexibility of mindset, which has seen them overcome the odds time and again. Al-Ahly are formidable at home and adaptable away. Their Bermuda Triangle of strikers led by Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat and Emad Moteab is feared by defences and goalkeepers around Africa.

They will be expected to come out of the group on top, especially as they have sailed through so far. Al-Ahly swept aside Kenya's Tuskers 4-1 in the first-round and relied on a 2-1 home win over CA Bizerten in the second leg of their second round tie to make it through to their ninth consecutive main draw appearance.

Zamalek

Egypt's other continental champions will have to work hard not to be overshadowed by their compatriots but they have all the credentials to do that. They are five-time winners of this tournament and desperate to earn some silverware, the last time being in 2008 when they won the Egypt Super Cup.

They got their league campaign off to a blazing start and won their first 10 matches before getting beaten for the first time last Thursday. Burkinabe striker Abdoulaye Cisse is their player to watch and has had a decisive role in their domestic success this season. He also scored the goal that saw them qualify for the main draw, against spirited Ethiopian side Saint George.

That was Zamalek's only hiccup in qualifying. They dismissed Chad's Gazelle FC 7-0 in the preliminary round, overcame the DRC’s AS Vita 1-0 at home in the first round, but then required away goals to qualify ahead of Saint George.

Orlando Pirates

South Africa's sole representative at this stage of the tournament need only look to their newspapers for the list of reasons they are expected to do better than clubs from the country usually do. One reason stands out: the travel is not as arduous as it could have been.

There are direct flights between Johannesburg and Cairo, said one publication, so Pirates will not have to bother too much with negotiating tricky routes. The opposition can be easily studied, remarked another, given the amount of footage available on the two Egyptian sides.

Still, it will be a tough ask for them, but it's doable. They are the only South African team to have won this event before, back in 1995. Many eyes will be on their Zimbabwean striker Takesure Chinyama and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, who singlehandedly ensured they qualified over TP Mazembe.

Despite reportedly dodgy officiating, Pirates beat the DRC's pride and joy 3-2. That was after they overcame Zambian champions Zanaco 3-1 and thrashed Comores' Djabal 9-0 first-up.

AC Leopards

The Congolese side are a reflection of the country's football as a whole. Congo currently top their World Cup qualification group and are thought to be peaking at the right time. Apart from representing the nation with pride, the club will also look to complete a fairytale that began when they won the CAF Confederation Cup, against expectation, last year.

They were considered no-hopers because of their low profile, but beat notable names like Heartland and Moghreb Fes along the way. Their striker, Rudy Guelor Bhebey-Ndey was the joint leading top-scorer with five goals and enterprising midfielder Cesaire Gandze is also worth keeping an eye on.

Leopards AC Leopards chalked up a quiet 2-1 win over Gabon's CF Mounana in the preliminaries but then their journey became tough. They drew 4-4 with Nigeria's Kano Pillars in the first round but progressed by virtue of away goals and then drew 4-4 again, with Algeria's ES Setif in the second round. A penalty shootout was required to separate the teams and Leopards prevailed 5-4.

On Friday, Football Africa will present Group B.

ESPN Conversations