Several clubs seek to break new ground with a place in the group phase of the CAF Champions League as the eight berths in the lucrative competition are decided at the weekend.

Of the 16 teams still chasing a place, nine have never been involved in the league since the continent's top club competition changed its format in 1997. Among them are two former African champions - the Moroccan pair of Wydad Casablanca and Royal Armed Forces, who are seeking to rediscover past pedigree.

The soldiers are playing in the Champions League for only the third time in the last decade, while Wydad's participation this year ends a 13-year absence from Africa's top club event. At the weekend, the two clubs will both have to come from behind after losing away in the first leg of the third-round ties earlier this month, but with differing degrees of difficulty. The army club are expected to overcome a 1-0 deficit from their meeting with TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and thereby avoid going out at the last stage of the knockout rounds for a third successive year.

Wydad must make up two goals  in a much more taxing tie with Cote d'Ivoire champions ASEC Abidjan, who, in stark contrast to their opponents, are hoping to get to the group phase for a record eighth time. Wydad will be ruing conceding a late goal in the first leg in Abidjan two weeks ago to Idrissu Abdul Nafiu, ASEC's Ghanaian Olympic international whose quick thinking in a free-kick situation doubled his side's lead for Sunday's second leg.

Wydad return again to the Mohamed V Complex in Casablanca, just reopened after extensive renovations, for a second successive week. Last Sunday they beat Royal Armed Forces there in their bid to retain their domestic league title.

Financial reward
The other seven sides with no past experience in the final 16 are Coton Sport (Cameroon), Etoile du Congo, Al Ittihad (Libya), Nigeria's Nasarawa United, Al Hilal (Sudan), Young Africans of Tanzania and the unheralded Maranatha Fiokpo (Togo).

They will all be keenly aware that the league phase offers all eight participants a share of the spoils of television and marketing rights sales, with a minimum of at least $200,000 guaranteed per club. While this is potentially the occasional bill for a flip on the champagne-filled private jet of a flamboyant owner of one of Europe's glamour sides, on the African continent is it is a veritable fortune which, for many clubs, can represent several years' budget.

Etoile du Congo and  Nasarawa United are heavily fancied  to make their debuts in the group competition, after positive first leg results against opponents who are also seeking to venture where they have never been before. Etoile du Congo, coached by the Franco-Romanian Nicolae Bruscea, have a 3-1 lead over Libya's Al Ittihad ahead of their weekend game in Tripoli, while Nasarawa United are even more handily placed after beating Al Hilal 3-0 in the first leg of their tie in Nigeria.

It is the first year that Nasarawa United compete in continental competition, but they have a steady hand on the rudder with former Super Eagle Daniel Amokachi serving as one of their co-coaches. The 'Kaduna Bull' sampled the rigours of European competition in his playing days at Club Brugge in Belgium, Turkey's Besiktas and Everton of England. 

Outsiders hoping
Coton Sport, Young Africans and Maranatha Fiokpo are not expected to make the step up on to uncharted waters, although the have made it clear they will still fight for the cause. Coton Sport do have a 1-0 lead over JS Kabylie of Algeria, but the goal might not be enough for Friday's second leg in Algiers.

Maranatha Fiokpo are away at Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, where a goal avalanche can be expected in Sousse on Saturday night after a 0-0 draw the first leg. Etoile have Yassine Chikhaoui back from suspension at a time when the Tunisian international striker's name is being linked with several clubs across the Mediterranean in the French league.

Tunisia's other representatives Esperance are in Mwanza where they  defend a 3-0 lead  against Young Africans, who have switched the game from the capital Dar-es-Salaam to the shores of Lake Victoria anticipating a better crowd and payday at the box office.
 

CAF Champions League third round, second-legs (first leg results in parenthesis):

Friday 20 April:
In Algiers: JS Kabylie (Algeria) v Coton Sport (Cameroon) (0-1)
In Cairo: Al Ahli (Egypt) v Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) (2-2)

Saturday 21 April:
In Mwanza: Young Africans (Tanzania) v Esperance (Tunisia) (1-4)
In Rabat: Royal Armed Forces (Morocco) v TP Mazembe Englebert (DR Congo) (0-1)
In Sousse: Etoile Sahel (Tunisia) v Maranatha Fiokpo (Togo) (0-0)
In Omdurman: Al Hilal v Nasarawa United (0-3)

Sunday 22 April:
In Casablanca: Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) v ASEC Abidjan (Ivory Coast) (0-2)
In Tripoli: Al Ittihad (Libya) v Etoile du Congo (Congo) (1-3)

*Winners qualify for the group phase of the Champions League, starting in June. Losers proceed to the fourth round of the African Confederation Cup.