February 8, 2018

Strong line-up as CAF Champions League begins

Strong line-up as CAF Champions League begins

USM Alger’s Goalkeeper Zehma mouche(C) vies for the ball with Egypt Zamalek’s player Shekabala (R) during the African Champions League (CAF) group stage football match between Zamalek and USM Alger at the Borg el-Arab Stadium, near Alexandria, on June 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO

Record eight-time title-holders Al Ahly of Egypt are among 10 former winners who qualified for the 2018 CAF Champions League, which begins this weekend with preliminary round first legs.

Defending champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and five-time winners TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo are other powerful outfits in the 59-club field.

After a bye, Wydad launch their title defence against Stade Malien of Mali or newcomers Williamsville of the Ivory Coast, neither of whom look likely giantkillers.

There are also five teams who have won other CAF competitions, making it one of the strongest line-ups in the 54-year history of the leading African club competition.

AFP Sport looks at what lies in store at the qualifying stage for eight clubs capable of becoming champions and pocketing $2.5 million (about two million euros).

Al Ahly (Egypt)

After a preliminary-round bye, the 2017 runners-up captained by goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy should eliminate Kadiogo of Burkina Faso or Mounana of Gabon and secure entry to the lucrative group stage.

Al Hilal (Sudan)

Twice runners-up, an Omdurman outfit packed with Sudanese internationals must overcome LISCR of Liberia and Leopards of Congo Brazzaville or Port of Togo, tasks well within their capabilities.

Entente Setif (Algeria)

The 2014 winners are unlikely to be troubled by Real Bangui of the Central African Republic, but probable last-32 rivals Al Tahaddy of Libya loom as a potential “banana skin”.

Esperance (Tunisia)

It would be a stunning turn-up if the 1994 and 2011 champions fell to Concorde of Mauritania or the winners between Gor Mahia of Kenya and Leones Vegetarianos of Equatorial Guinea.

Etoile Sahel (Tunisia)

The only club to win all five current and former CAF competitions, including the 2007 Champions League, have a bye, then confront Plateau United of Nigeria or Eding Sport of Cameroon, both debutants.

Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)

South Africa winger Percy Tau stars in a multi-national squad seeking a second title in three years and it is difficult to imagine Rayon Sports of Rwanda or LLB Academic of Burundi stopping them.

TP Mazembe (DR Congo)

Although only the winners between weak sides Ngaya of the Comoros and Songo of Mozambique stand between Mazembe and the group stage, they will be wary after failing to qualify for the past two seasons.

Wydad Casablanca (Morocco)

Having axed coach Hussein Amoutta over poor domestic form and sold star scorer Achraf Bencharki, the two-time champions are set to meet 2009 Confederation Cup winners Stade Malien with a group place on the line.