Coaches Manuel Jose and Gordon Igesund formed a mutual appreciation society of sorts in Pretoria on Wednesday with congratulatory remarks, declarations of respect and guarded predictions.

It was a rare pre-match press conference ahead of potentially the most exciting game in African club football so far this year. Defending champions Al Ahly of Egypt are in South Africa for the CAF Champions League third round, first leg  tie against Mamelodi Sundowns .

Saturday sees the first leg of the a meeting between two of Africa's form sides, which is going to cost one of them a place in the lucrative last eight of Africa's showcase club competition. Both clubs are on the verge of retaining their domestic titles in rampant fashion and have high hopes for success at a higher level.

"We are desperate to prove ourselves in African football," said Sundowns' coach Igesund. "To win the Champions League three times in a row is a record we want to achieve," retorted Jose, the former Benfica and Sporting Lisbon coach.

Sundowns host the all-conquering Cairo outfit in the first leg at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, one the eight third round ties at the weekend.

Al Ahly's Jose has commented that his club are in for one of their toughest assignments to date in trying to get past the South African side, who have won their last ten league matches in a row and are now just three points away from  retaining their domestic premier league title .

"I have great respect for Sundowns and for their coach, but I've told my players we are coming here to win the match," said Jose, chasing his fourth Champions League title after past successes in 2001, 2005 and 2006.

"Our idea since I've been coach of this club is that we attack as much away from home as we do in front of our own supporters. Previously Egyptian clubs were happy to play defensively and try to force a draw or just lose 1-0 away and then look to play on the front foot when at home.

"I have changed this mentality - we're looking to win all of our games. It might sound arrogant but this is the way we do things at Al Ahly. But we know it is not going to be an easy two games," Jose added.

Igesund retorted: "Things have gone well for us in the domestic league but we all have a dream of conquering Africa. We know that to do that we have to play and beat teams like Al Ahly. We are not going to sit back and hope it happens. We have earned a right to be here (at this stage) and everything that Al Ahly have achieved over the years is history now. It's an opportunity for us to show Africa that there are new kids on the block. We are very desperate to do well and this is a great opportunity for us." 

Seven more matches
This clash of the titans overshadows the other seven matches, but there are match-ups between former African champions and other games that also promise to provide new faces for the league phase of the competition.

Either Etoile du Congo or Libyan club  Al Ittihad  will become the first side from their respective countries to reach the last eight since the group format was introduced in 1997. The first leg of their tie is set for Brazzaville on Sunday.

Morocco's Royal Armed Forces are among past winners left in this year's field. They take on  TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who won back-to-back titles in the late 1960s. The first leg is in Kinshasa on Sunday with Mazembe forced to move the match because their home stadium in the southern city of Lubumbashi unavailable for use.

ASEC Abidjan from Cote d'Ivoire and Morocco's Wydad Casablanca are also two former African champions pitted against each other.

The opening third round match is in Tunis on Friday when Esperance host Young Africans of Tanzania at the El Menzah stadium.

'Yanga' can expect a severe backlash from the 1994 champions, whose chances of retaining their Tunisian league title went out the window last weekend when they lost 3-1 at arch rivals Etoile Sahel, who are also still in this year's Champions League field.

CAF Champions League
Round of 16

Mamelodi Sundowns - Al-Ahly  
Nasarawa United - Al-Hilal  
Maranatha - Etoile Sahel  
Etoile du Congo - Al Ittihad
ASEC Mimosas - Wydad Casablanca  
Esperance - Young Africans FC  
TP Mazembe - FAR Rabat  
Cotonsport Garoua - JS Kabylie