Egyptians Al Ahly, the most successful club in pan-African football competitions, head a star-stacked 2015 CAF Confederation Cup cast into play-offs this weekend.
Ten of the 16 hopefuls have been African champions and three others won the second-tier Confederation Cup. The 13 CAF title holders have claimed 61 trophies between them with Ahly (19), fellow Egyptians Zamalek (nine) and Tunisians Etoile Sahel (eight) the most successful.
Although offering less prize money and prestige, the Confederation Cup is set to overshadow the 2015 CAF Champions League, with the elite competition boasting only two former champions. The play-offs pit eight clubs who survived a three-round Confederation Cup knockout elimination process against eight Champions League last-16 losers.
And with Tunisians Esperance and CS Sfaxien among the Champions League failures, the North African country has four clubs hoping to pocket the USD $660,000 (€580,000) Confederation Cup main prize. The Tunisian quartet are all involved in blockbuster fixtures with Club Africain away to Ahly and Sfaxien hosting Ivorians ASEC Mimosas.
Esperance have home advantage over Ghanaians Hearts of Oak in a repeat of the 2000 Champions League final and Etoile are away to Moroccans Raja Casablanca. There are two challengers from Congo DR with Sanga Balende hosting Zamalek and V Club visiting Malians Stade Malien.
Pirates eye swashbuckling performance:
South Africans Orlando Pirates and Nigerians Warri Wolves are the lone survivors this year from their countries in the CAF competitions. Both play away first with Pirates tackling Guineans Kaloum in Mali because of Ebola epidemic concerns and Wolves confronting Congolese AC Leopards in Dolisie.
Jacob Nettey, skipper of the 2000 Hearts of Oak Champions League-winning team, says his former club have no chance of defeating Esperance again. “Esperance are going to win at home and away because Hearts have reached the play-offs by luck,” he told a Ghanaian radio station. “If you compare the present-day Hearts and Esperance teams, the Tunisians are far superior,” he added.
Hearts hope Nettey will be wrong again as he dismissed the chances of the Accra outfit in the qualifiers, saying the players lacked quality and the club was wasting money competing.
Two-time African champions Esperance can call on tall, pencil-slim Harrison Afful, a long-serving Ghana national team defender. Pirates caretaker coach Eric Tinkler says he would rather have faced Ahly or Esperance because the South Africans know them whereas Kaloum are a mystery.
“Playing a North African club would have made our preparations easier because there is plenty of video footage available,” said the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations winner with Bafana Bafana (The Boys).
Kermit Erasmus scored a second-leg hat-trick for the Soweto Buccaneers in a comfortable last-16 triumph over Gabonese Mounana. Kaloum have a new coach, Frenchman Hugo Cabouret, with Ivorian Francois Zahoui fired after a Champions League loss to Algerians USM Alger.
Title-holders Ahly host Club Africain under new coach Fathi Mabrouk, who succeeded sacked Spaniard Juan Carlos Garrido this month. “I am proud to be in charge of a squad packed with experience and skills,” said Mabrouk. “Our recent performances have been good and I just want my team to play with less stress.”
The second legs are scheduled for 5-7 June, giving clubs a longer-than-usual three-week break between the two CAF matches.
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