After his side beat Cairo giants Al Ahly 3-0 in Egypt in the second round of matches, Orlando Pirates' coach Roger de Sa said that he expected Group A in the CAF Champions League to be decided on the final match day. The former South African international has been proven right as the Buccaneers and AC Leopards are vying for the last place in the semi-finals of Africa's biggest club competition.
North African clubs Al Ahly and Esperance, as well as Cameroon's Coton Sport have already booked their tickets to the last four, which will be played over two legs in October. The final is also a home-and-away tie and will be in November with the winner qualifying for December's FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco.
Match of the week
While Zamalek are the second-most successful club in the competition with five continental crowns, AC Leopards are outsiders who have overachieved on the scene over the last two years. Ahead of their final Group A match however, it is the Cairo giants who have been eliminated, while the Congolese are in with a good shot of reaching the semi-finals. Leopards, who last year sensationally won the CAF Confederations Cup, are involved in a long-distance tussle with Orlando Pirates for the final place in the last four. A win will see Leopards through, unless Pirates also win at home against Al Ahly, while a draw or defeat will also be good enough for Leopards if Pirates also draw or lose. Leopards, whose away form in Africa has been poor, will draw some consolation from the fact that they face a dejected Zamalek side and will play the match outside Cairo, behind closed doors.
Although holders Al Ahly have already qualified for the semi-finals, there is plenty at stake for the seven-time champions in Johannesburg against Orlando Pirates. A defeat against the 1995 champions would leave the Red Devils second in the group behind Pirates and thus up facing Group B winners and Tunisian powerhouses Esperance in the semi-final, while a draw or win would match them up with a young Coton Sport side. The visitors also have a score to settle with Pirates, having been beaten 3-0 at home by the South African club earlier in the group stage. Coach Mohamed Youssef said that the seven-time champions are looking for a full three points. "It will be important to secure our place as Group A winners," he commented.
In Group B the only thing that needs to be decided is whether Angolan champions Recreativo Libolo or Ivorian club Sewe Sport finish third, and the two will meet in Calulo with both on four points. They are eight points off the pace of Esperance, who have already won the group ahead of their last match in Cameroon against second-placed Coton Sport. The Blood and Gold are taking an under-strength side on the road as coach Maher Kanzari has decided to leave behind most of the players who are on one booking and would be suspended for the semi-finals with another yellow card.
Player to watch
Although Lutunu Doule played an important part in helping AC Leopards to success in last year's CAF Confederations Cup, the Dolisie-based club's Cameroon coach Marius Omog brought in compatriot Lawrence Ngome Ngoe for this season and the goalkeeper has been in outstanding form as his club have conceded just three goals in their five group matches. Another good showing by the 34-year-old could see Leopards into their first Champions League semi-final.
3 - The number of times that AC Leopards have won on the road in African cup competitions, having played 18 away matches. The Congolese will advance to the last-four with a win at Zamalek, but could also qualify with a draw or defeat if Pirates do not do better.
What they said
"We will play to win against Orlando Pirates, as we are eager to revenge our previous loss in Gouna," Al Ahly forward Abdullah Said.
Have your say
Will this year's final be a repeat of the 2008 championship when Al Ahly beat Coton Sport 4-2 on aggregate, or will the two teams meet in the semi-final?