Between them, Stade Malien, Asante Kotoko, Al Hilal and AS Kaloum Stars can look back at nine appearances in the final of the CAF African Cup of Champions Clubs and a further six semi-finals appearances. Since the competition relaunched itself as the CAF Champions League in 1997, success has obviously become more difficult to attain as in the 18 editions played since then, the four clubs have advanced to the group stages no more than six times.

Ahead of their return legs in the first round of qualifying for the 2015 edition, the four clubs with such a rich tradition face differing tasks. Guinean club AS Kaloum, who stunned Côte d'Ivoire's Sewe Sport in the preliminary round, managed a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Zambia against Zesco United. They will, however, have to play their return leg in Bamako due to fears over Ebola. Asante Kotoko also secured an important away draw, playing goalless in Algeria against MC El Eulma. Côte d'Ivoire striker Ahmed Toure is one of the in-form players for the Ghanaian club. He believes teamwork will carry them through. “We are going to count on the efforts of all the players who will make the game and not just on one person," Toure said.

For Stade Malien and Al Hilal the situation seems much clearer and both can – barring any unforeseen circumstances – make plans for the second round of the competition. Mamadou Doumbia scored twice as Stade Malien won 3-1 in Gabon against AS Mangasport, while Al Hilal trounced Malawi club Big Bullets 4-0.

Al Hilal, who have just hired former Rwanda and Uganda coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic as head coach, will be hoping that their job in Blantyre will be made easier by the suspension of Bullets' influential defender Sankhani Mkandawire, who had picked up two yellow cards in the competition. Even though they need to overcome a four-goal deficit, Bullets' technical director Billy Tewesa will not count out a shock come-back."Anything is possible in football, we won't die without a fight, we will give it all against Al Hilal."

Taking success into the new format

At the other end of the spectrum TP Mazembe and Al Ahly have managed to carry their success into both events. Mazembe, then still competing as TP Englebert, appeared in four consecutive finals from 1967, winning two. They then added two more titles in the 2009 and 2010 Champions Leagues and managed to qualify for the semi-finals a further three times.

This weekend, the DR Congo club looks to overturn their 1-0 first leg result at Sundowns, which came from a late Khama Billiat goal 1-0. They have the strikers to do so in Thomas Ulimwengu, Mbwana Samatta, Roger Assale and Solomon Asante. All four of them were involved in international friendlies for their countries on the weekend and midweek, but will be available for Sunday's match in Lubumbashi.

By far the most successful club in the competition are Cairo giants Al Ahly. The Red Devils appeared in three finals when it was still the Champions Cup, winning twice. They have since added six more titles. Emad Meteab's brace gave the Egyptian team a 2-0 victory in Kigali against APR in the first leg and it seems very unlikely that the Rwandan club can conjure up a result that will deny Ahly a place in the next round.

Last year Al Ahly were stunned by their Libyan namesakes in the round of the last 16 and they are determined not to suffer a repeat performance. "After what happened last year, all the players are fully focused on winning the title of the most important competition in Africa, because we also want to return to the Club World Cup," said Ahly coach Juan Carlos Garrido. "We want to keep our chances from the very beginning to avoid a repeat of last year's early elimination. We should be consistent from the beginning."

Ahly could well be joined by anything up to eight North African clubs in the final round of qualifying. Only Egypt's Smouha need to overcome a 1-0 deficit from their away match at Enyimba. MC El Eulma and defending champions ES Setif (1-1 at Real Banjul) drew their first legs. Esperance (1-0 at Cosmos de Bafia), CS Sfaxien, (5-0 at AC Semassi) and Raja Casablanca (1-0 at Kaizer Chiefs) all won away, while USM Alger (5-1 against AS Pikine) and Moghreb Tetouan (4-0 against Kano Pillars) secured big victories at home.