Giants enter CAF Champions League title race
The four most successful clubs in African competitions enter the 2017 CAF Champions League this weekend expecting to build first-leg leads at home in last-32 ties.
Record 19-time title winners Al Ahly of Egypt face South African league leaders Wits, who are playing in the elite African competition for the first time.
TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo, second behind Ahly with 10 successes, meet unimpressive preliminary round winners CAPS United of Zimbabwe.
Zamalek of Egypt, winners of nine continental competitions and 2016 Champions League runners-up, tackle Enugu Rangers of Nigeria in an attractive match-up.
Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, the only club to win all five current and past CAF competitions, also boast nine titles ahead of a clash with AS Tanda of the Ivory Coast.
The last-32 line-up includes eight winners of the Champions League, including title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa, who host Kampala Capital City Authority of Uganda.
Esperance of Tunisia, V Club of DR Congo and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco complete the line-up of clubs who lifted the richest and most prized African trophy.
Another five challengers, Leopards of Congo Brazzaville, FUS Rabat of Morocco, Horoya of Guinea, Al Merrikh of Sudan and Enugu, have won other CAF titles.
A Nigerian club is overdue a good run, but an Enugu outfit that is struggling domestically will be underdogs against five-time champions Zamalek.
It is the second tough pairing for the “Flying Antelopes” this season, having scraped past JS Saoura of Algeria on the away-goal rule.
Bobby Clement scored in Algeria what ultimately proved the decisive goal and he believes better travel arrangements and tactics can foil Zamalek.
“We needed three flights to reach Algeria whereas the squad are travelling direct to Cairo. That will be a big help,” he told reporters.
“Our coaches are busy correcting the mistakes of recent matches in the national championship and coming up with a strategy to contain Zamalek.
“Among our biggest problems recently has been sluggish starts to matches — it takes us too long to stamp our authority.”
Enugu will not lack knowledge of the Cairo “White Knights”, who defeated another Nigerian club, Enyimba, home and away in the group phase last season.
The other Nigerian contenders, Rivers United, host Merrikh full of confidence after a four-goal thrashing of Malian visitors Real Bamako last month.
Ahly last won the Champions League in 2013, and six of the Egypt squad that finished Africa Cup of Nations runners-up last month came from the Cairo “Red Devils”.
Mazembe will be watched closely to see what effect the departures of Christian Luyindama, Merveille Bope and Jonathan Bolingi to Standard Liege and Roger Assale to Young Boys Berne will have.
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