The two clubs that contested last year's CAF Champions League final will need to overturn first leg defeats if they are avoid exiting this year's edition before the league phase has even begun.
Etoile Sahel must bounce back from a sudden slump in form, including a 1-0 loss to Dynamos of Zimbabwe in the first leg of their third round tie last month, while Egypt giants Al Ahly know victory is their only option after an unexpected 2-1 defeat at rookies Platinum Stars of South Africa.
Etoile, who dropped two potentially precious points in the
Tunisian league on Sunday and have now been caught at the top of
the table, will need to call on all their experience and finesse
against Dynamos, who are hoping to pull off yet another upset in a
competition that has already seen some high-profile early
"Playing away in north Africa presents us with it some unique challenges and we really have to be mentally strong if we are to come up with a positive result," admitted Dynamos coach David Mandigora.
The Zimbabweans say they will take a different approach to their attacking game in the first leg, when former international Desmond Maringwa grabbed the only goal of the game. "Etoile will obviously come out firing as they will be eager to cancel out our advantage and the onus is on us to ensure we survive the early onslaught as well as seek to get a goal or two of our own," the coach added.
Attack the best form of defence?
Al Ahly, meanwhile, did manage to grab a vital away goal in their tie against Stars in Pretoria but will still be wary of the potential of their unheralded opponents, making their first appearance in continental club competition.
Stars' Argentine-born coach Miguel Gamondi insists he has a
strategy to beat the Egyptians in the second leg in Cairo, a feat
only achieved twice before in some 60 matches in continental club
"It's a big mistake to go there and defend," he said. "We know the crowd will put huge pressure on us in the first 20 minutes and try to intimidate the referee. , who are not the quickest."
The Cairo club gave an indication of their respect for Stars' capabilities by resting key players in Tuesday's league match against ENPPI. A second-string Ahly side went down to the club's second defeat of a league season that has already seen them sew up the title.
Former champions collide
Besides Etoile Sahel and Al Ahly, there are a further six past winners of Africa's top club prize in this year's CAF Champions League field.
At least one is certain to be eliminated on Friday night when the 1991 champions Club Africain of Tunisia host Enyimba of Nigeria, who won the title in 2003 and 2004. Enyimba ran riot in the first leg to record a 5-1 win in Aba and are well placed for progress to the group phase.
JS Kabylie, who were champions in 1981 and 1990, also face elimination, needing to come from three goals down against Coton Sport of Cameroon. JSK, crowned Algerian league champions last weekend, host the second leg in Tizi Ouzou against a determined Cameroon side, seeking to reach the league phase for the very first time.
Also in a perilous position are the 1998 champions ASEC Abidjan, who were hoping to reach the league phase for a record eighth time. The Ivorians were held to a goalless draw at home by Olympqiue Khouribga of Morocco in the first leg and must now try and salvage their chances away from home on Sunday.
Three time-winners TP Mazembe Engelbert host Al Ittihad of Libya
on Sunday, also seeking to fight back after losing 2-1 in the first
As for Zamalek, who have been crowned winners a record five times, they look an as they travel to Luanda to meet Angola's InterClube already 3-0 up from the first leg. That resounding win resulted in the sacking of InterClube coach Carlos Mozer and the club currently find themselves in the relegation zone of the Angolan league after a calamitous start to the defence of their league title.
CAF Champions League third round, second leg fixtures
First leg results in parenthesis
JS Kabylie (Algeria) - Coton Sport (Cameroon) (0-3)
Club Africain (Tunisia) - Enyimba (Nigeria) (1-5)
Etoile Sahel (Tunisia) - Dynamos (Zimbabwe) (0-1)
Al Ahly (Egypt) - Platinum Stars (South Africa) (1-2)
Olympique Khouribga (Morocco) - ASEC Abidjan (Ivory Coast) (0-0)
InterClube (Angola) - Zamalek (Egypt) (0-3)
TP Mazembe Englebert (DR Congo) - Al Ittihad (Libya) (1-2)
Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) - Al Hilal (Sudan) (2-4)
Winners advance to the group phase in July.