Sundowns out to spoil

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Sfaxien will be guests of South African champions, Mamelodi Sundowns, while Mazembe will be away in Cameroon to face Astres Douala.

The Tunisians lead the pack on 10 points, one more than the two-time continental champions, and must avoid defeat at the Super Stadium in Atteridgeville to complete successive appearances in the finals of different club competitions.

Sfaxien lost 1-2 to Ahly in the finals of last year’s Caf Champions League and a positive result at Sundowns will take them closer to another continental success since 1998.

However, the Brazilians’ coach Gordon Igesund has indicated that Sundowns intend to fight until the end and prove that the humiliating 1-4 loss handed them by their guests, was not a true reflection of their ability.

Mazembe are hoping to cash in if Sfaxien falls as they hope to be the first team to claim maximum points away from home at this stage as their opponents, Astres, have even struggled at their own home ground.

Mazembe, whose nine-point haul came from their three home wins, will be basking their hopes of leading marksman Tresor Mputu to dim the “Stars” in Douala.

In Group B, Dolphins needs at least a five-goal victory against Sudan’s El-Merrikh in Port Harcourt to qualify for the finals while Ismaili are favoured to claim the points against Kwara United of Nigeria.

Dolphins, losing finalists in 2005 trail Merrikh by three points, and must annul the 1-6 defeat to topple the Sudanese at the pinnacle of the group via head-to-head.

Any result short of that scoreline will automatically shutter the ambitions of the Port Harcourt-based team of their first ever continental title.

Only the group winners qualify for next month’s final.

Meanwhile, Egyptian giants, Al Ahly and Etoile du Sahel, need to win their respective second leg matches of the CAF-MTN Champions League semi-finals this weekend in order to ensure their place in the final.

Defending champions, Ahly will battle it out with surprise-force, Al Ittihad of Libya in Cairo while, Etoile engage Sudan’s Al Hilal in the other semi-final clash in Sousse. After squeezing a 0-0 result in Tripoli a fortnight ago, Ahly is in a better position unlike the Tunisian “Stars”, who must overcome a 1-2 loss in Khartoum to reach their third final in four years.

Incidentally, Ahly and Etoile met in 2005 finals, which the former won 3-0 for their first of last two titles.

Ahly is highly tipped to outshine the Sudanese especially at their favourite Cairo International Stadium, where they have kept a clean sheet since June as they seek to become the only side to have annexed the continent’s most prestigious club competition three times in succession.

The “Red Devils” cannot underrate the Libyans who has been in superb form in their maiden campaign at this stage of the competition since its inception eleven years ago.

It is in this regard that their Portuguese trainer, Jose Manuel has advised his players not to be complacent in this weekend’s clash despite the home advantage.

Manuel insists they have to remain focused to achieve the long-cherished dream of a third straight title, which would take their tally to an unprecedented sixth.

On the other hand, Serbian-born coach of Al-Ittihad, Branko Smiljanic, is optimistic of a positive outing against the African champions by possibly rediscovering their scoring boots which remained elusive in the first leg.

It was the only time the Libyan side failed to score at home in the competition, but after a 4-1 thrashing of Ahli Sanaa in the Arab Champion League on Monday; Ahly should expect a fierce contest this time.

In Sousse, Etoile need just a goal to advance past Hilal who are also hoping for their first ever final appearance since 1992.

Etoile were losing finalists in 2004 and 2005, and can only inch closer to their first Champions League title with a convincing win.

The Champions League remain the missing trophy from the Sousse-based club’s cabinet after successes in the defunct Cup winners’ Cup (1997, 2003), CAF Cup (1995, 1999) and the Confederations Cup in 2006.

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