With half of the matches in the group stage of the CAF Champions League played, the battle lines have been drawn and the eight remaining teams in Africa's biggest club competition know what they need to do to reach the semi-finals of the event.
Group A has shaped up to be a two-team race with Sudan's Al Hilal and Nigeria's Enyimba turning in some impressive performances on their way to seven points from three games. The two go on the road this weekend, looking to sew up a spot in the next round before they meet each other at the start of September.
Hilal travel to Garoua in northern Cameroon to face Coton Sport looking to record their second victory in two weeks over their rivals. In the last round, the Sudanese side overcame an early goal to win 2-1 and were fortunate to complete their fightback with a goal from a corner in the 82nd minute after the visitors had been reduced to ten men. After the win, their well-respected coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevich said his side could still improve. “We still have a long way to go, but it is easier to work with seven points from three matches. I am happy with the points but am not satisfied with my team’s performance,” he said.
Enyimba will travel to Morocco to face Raja Casablanca having also just defeated their rivals, 2-0 in Aba. It was a confident performance from the Nigerians, who won this competition in both 2003 and 2004. One of the emerging stars of this year's tournament, 25-year-old Uche Kalu, opened the scoring for his fourth goal in three group matches as the Nigerians were two ahead before the half-hour mark.
The People's Elephant are in confident mood, and with their domestic challenge all but over, Enyimba have their focus firmly on continental glory. “We played better than Raja and outclassed them in virtually all departments,” said promising young defender Markson Ojobo about the last match with Raja before adding that the return leg “will be tough, but we will be better.” Raja's coach, Balaci Ilie, kept up his optimistic view however, saying: “There are still nine points up for grabs. Like I always say, anything is possible in football.”
All to play for in North Africa
Even though sitting at the top of Group B on five points, Esperance and Wydad Casablanca will meet with a wary eye on Egyptian giants Al Ahly, who are chasing the two with four points and travel to group bottom-dwellers MC Alger. Esperance, who lost in the final of last year's tournament to TP Mazembe and have become consistent challengers deep into the Champions League, will have the home advantage in Rades, Tunisia after drawing 2-2 in Morocco a fortnight ago.
Wydad fought back bravely in that match, scoring both their goals in the final half an hour, but they will certainly have greater defensive solidity on their mind against the powerful Sang et Or (Blood and Gold) this weekend. The Moroccans would be happy with an away draw as they have the advantage on goal difference, and host Al Ahly in their next match, while Esperance must travel to Cairo for their final group game for what is sure to be a rousing conclusion to a tight table.
Six-time African champions Al Ahly started their group campaign slowly, drawing 3-3 with Wydad at home and losing 1-0 at Esperance, but two goals from veteran Emad Moteab settled their nerves and gave them a straightforward 2-0 win over MC Alger two weeks ago. After having won their domestic league and brought in some new talent, Ahly have the appearance of a rousing tiger, but a tough trip to Algeria could stall their momentum before it really begins.