It is a destination millions of miles from Africa, but Tokyo is increasingly taking on an important meaning for the cream of the continent's club footballers.

The venue of the final of the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year is but a pipe dream for almost all of the teams involved, but hopes of making it to the tournament in the Japanese capital in December is now a major driving force for the participants as a new edition of the CAF Champions League gets underway this weekend.

The strong showing by Etoile Sahel of Tunisia in last year's tournament in Japan has given a new emphasis to the prize of qualifying for the FIFA Club World Cup, which is on offer to the winner of the CAF Champions League.

This weekend, seven former winners embark on a bid to lift the CAF Champions League in the first leg of the first knockout round.

They include Zamalek, the Cairo giants who have won the trophy a record five times but have had to live in the shadow of their counterparts Al Ahly in recent years.

A return trip for Zamalek
One of Zamalek's recent setbacks was an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Rwanda army club APR FC, who knocked them out in the second round four years ago.

The 4-1 loss for Zamalek in Kigali in the second leg of their tie remains one of the competition's biggest upsets of all time, but the draw has thrown the two together once more.

Zamalek have been boosted by the arrival of four players from Egypt's victorious CAF Africa Cup of Nations winning squad. Striker Amr Zaki, goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Moncef and the defending do of Tarek El Sayed and Mahmoud Fatallah all arrived in Rwanda in the last 24 hours after returning from the heady celebrations in Cairo and Dubai. Coach Rudi Krol will have to assess their fitness before deciding to use them in his starting line-up.

Other past continental champions in first round action this weekend are Nigeria's Enyimba, Union Douala of Cameroon, Morocco's Royal Armed Forces, Entente Setif of Algeria, Ghana's Hearts of Oak and Club Africain from Tunisia.

Nigerians in confident mood
Enyimba have high hopes this year of replaying their success in 2003 and 2004 when they won back-to-back titles. Technical director Daniel Amokachi, the former Nigeria international describes the team as "polished and determined". They play at home in Aba on Sunday against Diables Noirs from Congo.

Royal Armed Forces are also at home in their meeting with Sporting Praia from the Cape Verde Islands, who have been preparing in Portugal ahead of the match in Rabat.

Club Africain play away at Senegal's ASC Saloum on Sunday. For Club Africain, the match marks their return to the Champions League for the first time in 11 years, and they have high hopes of restoring their lost reputation.

"Club Africain is a big club that should be participating each year in this competition," said coach Abdelhak Ben Chikha. "Our prestige remains, but we have to take the necessary precautions in difficult games on the continent."

Union Douala of Cameroon, who won the continental title as far back as 1979, dismissed their coach Bonaventure Djonkep ten days ago after a series of disappointing results in their national league and have put Gérard Mbimi in charge for the match in Togo against ASO Kara.

CAF Champions League
Preliminary Round

ASC SNIM (MTN)-Entente Setif (ALG)
Sporting Bissau (GNB)-Olympique Khouribga (MAR)
Invincible XI (LBR)-AS Kaloum (GUI)
Renacimiento (EQG)-InterClube (ANG)
Royal Armed Forces (MAR)-Sporting Praia (CPV)
Tonnerre FC (BEN)-Africa Sports (CIV)
APR FC (RWA)-Zamalek (EGY)
AS Douanes (SEN)-CF Ouagadougou (BFA)
Costa do Sol (MOZ)-Ajesaia (MAD)
Royal Leopards (SWZ)-Dynamos (ZIM)
Sahel SC (NIG)-AshantiGold (GHA)
Daring Club Motema Pembe (COD)-Gombe United (NGA)
Vital'O (BDI)-Coton Sport (CMR)
FC105 Libreville (GAB)-Hearts of Oak (GHA)
Stade Malien (MLI)-Primeiro Agosto (ANG)
ASC Saloum (SEN)-Club Africain (TUN)
ASKO Kara (TOG)-Union Douala (CMR)
Tusker FC (KEN)-Al Tahrir (ERI)
Simba SC (TAN)-Awassa City (ETH)
Enyimba (NGA)-Diables Noirs (CGO)
US Tamponnaise-St Michel United (SEY)
Platinum Stars (RSA)-Lesotho Correction Services (LES)
Curepipe Starlight (MRI)-Coin Nord Mitsamiouli (COM)
Miembeni SC (Zanzibar)-Mamelodi Sundowns (RSA)
Uganda Revenue Authority (UGA)-ZESCO United (ZAM)