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CAF Champions League favourites

Posted: 9 February 2018 Time: 18:00

The 2018 CAF Champions League officially gets underway this weekend, as looks at five teams who will back themselves to go all the way in this year’s tournament.

The preliminary round of Africa’s elite club competition kicks off across this weekend, the start of a nine-month journey for the eventual winners, who will cross the length and breadth of the continent in search of glory, as we select five heavyweight sides determined to conquer all once more.

Wydad Casablanca (Morocco)

Defending champions Wydad Casablanca claimed the CAF Champions League title last year following a 2-1 aggregate victory over Egyptian giants Al Ahly, winning the coveted trophy for the second time, 25 years after their first.

The Moroccans may be well off the pace in their domestic league so far this campaign as the after-effects of their taxing CAF campaign take their toll, yet having even fired coach Hussein Amoutta last month, are still up there as one of the dangerous teams in this year’s tournament.

Moroccan football is on a high following their CHAN final victory over Nigeria, and with Casablanca having a bye in the preliminary rounds, an encounter against either Stade Malien or Ivory Coast’s Williamsville AC in the next round should not prove too difficult for the club to secure their spot in this year’s group stages.

Al Ahly (Egypt)

Always a threat on the continent, Al Ahly narrowly missed out on a record ninth CAF Champions League title last year after losing the final by a solitary goal on aggregate. A well-drilled unit with a strong Egyptian core, coupled with a sprinkling of quality imports including Tunisian international Ali Maaloul and Morocco’s Walid Azarou, the Egyptians are currently taking their local league by storm, cruising through all their catch-up games from the CAF campaign last year to sit at the top of the log after 22 games, 12 points ahead of second-placed Ismaily.

Egypt’s participation in this year’s World Cup could result in fatigue for many of their stars later on in the tournament, yet with quality in depth, Al Ahly will fancy their chances in reaching the latter stages of the competition. Also receiving a bye in the preliminaries, the Egyptians will face the winners of the Rail Club du Kadiogo-CF Mounana clash in the first round next month.

Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia)

Semi-finalists last time out, Etoile du Sahel will be determined to go one better this year and add to the solitary CAF Champions League title they won in 2007. Although beaten 7-4 on aggregate in their semi-final against Al Ahly, Etoile were the tournament’s highest scorers in the group stages in the last edition, scoring 13 goals in their six games to top Group A. They will hope the team’s scoring prowess will once again propel them in this year’s competition.

As last season’s Tunisian league champions, Etoile have bypassed the preliminary stages this time out, and will face either Plateau United from Nigeria or Cameroon’s Eding Sport for a place in the next round.

TP Mazembe (DR Congo)

Having failed to qualify for the group stages of the past two editions, Mazembe are determined to stamp their authority on the competition once more, and add to the five CAF Champions League trophies in their cabinet. Winners of back-to-back CAF Confederation Cup titles over the past seasons, Mazembe went unbeaten throughout the entire tournament last year, eventually edging SuperSport United 2-1 on aggregate in the final to defend their crown.

Lubumbashi is their fortress, and never an easy venue to play in, with the Congolese giants last losing a league match at home in December 2016. They are currently top of their domestic standings after 15 matches, and as reigning league champions, will also avoid a preliminary round tie, with the winners of the Ngaya Club-UD Songo match-up lying in wait in the next round.

Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)

Taking courage from their 2016 CAF Champions League victory, Mamelodi Sundowns are now a name feared in Africa, with CAF Coach of the Year recipient Pitso Mosimane repeatedly voicing his focus on targeting continental success at Chloorkop.

Beaten by eventual winners Wydad Casablanca on penalties in the quarter-finals last time out, The Brazilians are keen to give Africa another full go, and arguably begin the campaign with an even stronger squad than last year, having secured the January signings of Aubrey Ngoma, Gaston Sirino, Siyabonga Zulu and last season’s CAF Confederation Cup top scorer Jeremy Brockie.

Currently sitting five points clear at the top of the Absa Premiership table with 10 league matches left, Sundowns will only get their CAF campaign underway in the first round next month, skipping the preliminaries due to their runners-up finish in the league last season. They’ll take on either LLB Académic FC from Burundi or Rayon Sport of Rwanda in their group stage qualifier.

Article by: Fabio De Dominicis
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