Last eight begin final tilt in Africa
© AFP

The first round of matches in the lucrative group stage of Africa's showpiece club event get off to a staggered start this weekend, with the four matches all being scheduled for different days for a number of reasons. The top two teams in each group advance to the semi-finals, and the winner of the CAF Champions League will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year in Morocco.

Game of the week
Zamalek - Al Ahly
As much as Zamalek and Al Ahly are giants of Egyptian football, they are also giants of African football. They have won the Champions League, and its predecessor the CAF Champions Cup, more often than any other clubs. As well as being current holders, Al Ahly are seven times continental champions with their Cairo rivals two behind their trophy haul. The draw of the group stage saw the teams paired together in Group A, with the White Knights hosting Al Ahly in the first match. Coach Mohamed Youssef will be in charge of the Red Devils for the first time in a continental game, having taken over from Hossam El Badry, who left the club to join their namesakes in Tripoli. The match was originally scheduled for Sunday, was then moved to Monday and will now be played in the El-Gouna Stadium on Wednesday due to political instability in the country, but all of Egypt and indeed Africa will no doubt be glued to their televisions. Up front, Burkina Faso international Abdoulaye Cisse had been in fine form for Zamalek, scoring five goals in the qualifying rounds.

Other matches
Orlando Pirates get the round's proceedings under way with their Group A match at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto against Congolese club AC Leopards on Saturday. The 1995 winners will start the match as favourites, but they are no doubt wary of Leopards, who last year sensationally won the CAF Confederation Cup. The Buccaneers, who beat Lesotho club Matlama FC 5-1 in a warm-up match, will be without defenders Siyabonga Sangweni, who is injured, and the suspended Lucky Lekgwathi.

In Group B, two-time winners Esperance are away to Recreativo do Libolo in Angola on Sunday. Seifeddine Akermi, Iheb Mbarki and Oussama Darragi have been added to the Champions League squad by the Sang et Or (Blood and Gold) and could well feature against the Angolan champions. A disappointing run in the local league has seen Recreativo replace Portuguese coach Henrique Calisto with Angolan Miller Gomes, and the new man in charge watched his side beat Caala 2-1 in a league game midweek. A question mark remains over the other Group B game between Coton Sport of Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire's Sewe Sport, which was to be held on the weekend in Cameroon. CAF has now informed the clubs that the game may be held a week later on a date to be confirmed due to Cameroon's current suspension from all international footballing activities.

Player to watch

Playmaker Oussama Darragi has returned to Tunisian club Esperance after spending a season with Sion in the top flight in Switzerland. The 26-year-old, who won the Player of the Year award for African-based players in 2011, is very much a man-in-form, having scored in Tunisia's three last FIFA World Cup™ qualifying matches.

The stat
3 – The number of consecutive seasons that Esperance have reached the final of the CAF Champions League. They won their second continental crown in 2011 after initially lifting the trophy in 1994.

What they said
"(AC Leopards) are a form team, currently sharing the lead in the Congolese championship, as well as holding the league title. But, for all this, we've picked up some valuable pointers and ... you know what they say about leopards never changing their spots... we know pretty much what to expect," Orlando Pirates coach Roger De Sa, on having studied videos of their opponents.

Have your say
Who will win this edition of the great Egyptian derby between Zamalek and Al Ahly?