Favourites look to take control
© AFP

Although the CAF Champions League group stage has only just gotten under way, North African clubs are already under pressure with Tunisian club Esperance, who have played in the last three finals, losing their opener, and Cairo giants Zamalek and Al Ahly playing to a draw against each other.

All three will be in action over the weekend with the other five clubs left looking for Africa's biggest club glory. The top two from each of the two groups advance to the semi-finals, and the winner of the competition earns the right to represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco later this year.

Match of the week
Sewe Sports – Recreativo do Libolo

With three points already in the bag in Group B, Recreativo do Libolo travel to Côte d'Ivoire in a positive frame of mind. Their opponents, on the other hand, will get their group phase campaign underway against the Angolans after their first match at Coton Sport was postponed due to Cameroon's since-lifted suspension.
Recreativo midfielder Manu Lopes said that even if the game would be difficult, they "had the will to win and will be united in trying to get all three points." The Angolans are a well-balanced side, with eight players on the scoresheet so far in the CAF Champions League, with Dario leading the list with three goals.
They are also very fit and have scored seven of their 13 goals in the competition in the last 15 minutes. Sewe coach Rigo Gervais said he was not too disappointed that they did not play the first game: "It is an advantage to play the first game at home," he said.

Other matches
AC Leopards will be looking to keep their excellent form at home as they take on Egyptian giants Zamalek in Group A. The Congo side remain unbeaten at home in ten games and over a year in continental competitions and will be looking to striker Arouna Drame to continue his rich vein of form. Zamalek coach Helmi Toulan's job will not be made any easier by the fact that he is missing several players.

Midfielder Nour El Sayed and defender Salah Soliman are suspended, while first-choice goalkeeper Abdelwahed El Sayed could not travel due to visa problems and veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan, who is the world's most-capped player, has withdrawn from the squad over payment issues despite recently agreeing to play for another season.

The other game in Group A, between holders Al Ahly and 1995 winners Orlando Pirates, will take place despite the Egyptians putting in a request to play a week later due to Ramadan. Good news for Ahly though is that winger Walid Soliman will be able to play after recovering from an ankle injury. Pirates will be without new-signing Kermit Erasmus, as the former Feyenoord forward is cup-tied after appearing for Supersport in another CAF competition.

All four teams in the group are currently on one point after drawing their opening games. In Group B, Esperance are hoping to recover from their shock defeat in Angola a fortnight ago with a win against Coton Sport in a match to be played behind closed doors. The 2011 champions recently recorded two victories in friendlies against Algerian competition as preparation but will be without the suspended young striker Haithem Jouini.

Player to watch
Mohamed Ibrahim is one of the hottest Egyptian players around at the moment, and it is not surprising that European clubs have noticed the promising 21-year-old. Spanish club Malaga were reportedly close to reaching an agreement for a one-year loan period with the Pharaohs' forward, but Ibrahim quashed those rumours earlier in the week saying: "Now my only focus is on [Zamalek] and our campaign to win the African Champions league title."

The stat
9 –
The number of goals that AS Leopards conceded in the three rounds of the knock-out phase of the competition. Astonishingly, they lost all three away matches (1-0 at CF Mounana, 4-1 at Kano Pillars and 3-1 against ES Setif), yet still advanced to the group phase, thanks to away goals and a penalty shoot-out in the last two rounds.

What they said
“We are preparing ourselves seriously, and I believe that our first game in Tunis is a good opportunity for us. It will allow us to enter the competition against a good team, who is under pressure at home after losing their first game," Coton Sport coach Sebastien Desabre, whose side debut in the group stage at Esperance.

Have your say
Which of the eight clubs left in the competition is best equipped to represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup and take on the likes of Bayern Munich and Atletico Mineiro?