This weekend brings the penultimate matchday of the CAF Champions League group stage, with time running out for the remaining hopefuls to claim their places in the semi-finals. Sudan’s Al Hilal will be at home and trying to end Enyimba’s unbeaten run in Group A of the CAF Champions League, while in Group B, leaders Esperance and Wydad Casablanca are aiming to maintain undefeated starts of their own.
Two-time African champions Enyimba are on eight points from four games and they know a victory in Omdurman will launch them into the semi-finals as one of the favourites. Hilal are just a point behind, so a victory on their home ground could also send them through for what would be their third last four appearance in the last five years. Coton Sport may have a say yet, with the Cameroonians on four points and hosting Raja Casablanca with the momentum of a 2-0 defeat of Hilal in the previous round – the only victory registered on the last matchday after three of the four games ended scoreless.
Group B continues to be a three-way affair with Egyptian giants Al Ahly on five points, one behind Tunisia’s Esperance and Morocco’s Wydad. Ahly play in Casablanca on Sunday and host the confident Tunisians the following week, so any slips will mean hard times for the seven-time African champions. Esperance, runners-up in last season’s Champions League, are favourites to beat the group’s bottom-dwellers Mouloudia Alger at home, which could put them in the last four for the fifth time in the past decade.
The two Group B leaders have drawn three out of four matches in a tentative field, while Algeria’s representative have claimed just two home draws and lost by a combined six goals to none in two away contests. Both Ahly and Wydad ended up as league champions again this year, and July’s contest in Cairo lived up to its billing as the two slugged it out in a dramatic 3-3 draw.
Elimination fears haunt Al Ahly
Ahly’s veteran Portuguese boss Manuel Jose is dealing with injury worries this week, with newly arrived striker Al-Sayed Hamdy a late withdrawal due to flu. The summer’s other attacking signing Fabio Junior is out with an ankle knock, and also missing will be the injured Mohamed Barakat and Ahmed Al-Sayed, as well as the suspended captain Hossam Ghaly. One slight injury worry, forward Emad Moteab, will be fit and hoping to replicate the brace he scored last month against MC Alger.
After some crowd trouble marred a mid-week domestic cup win, there is a lot of pressure facing the six-time African champions because they know that a loss at in-form Wydad will eliminate them from Africa’s biggest club competition if Esperance win as expected. The Red Devils could have gone top of Group B two weeks ago, but they failed to break down MC Alger in Algiers. A draw in Casablanca would keep them alive to the final matchday for a showdown with Esperance, but Jose says that the team need to push forward for three points. “We need to play for a win,” he said this week. "If we target a draw, we’ll lose and be out of the competition as I expect Esperance to beat Alger."
Wydad, who only reached the group stage after two-time defending champions TP Mazembe were eliminated for fielding an ineligible player, have been particularly impressive at home. In the previous rounds, they won all three home matches without conceding a goal, and in the group stage they thumped Alger 4-0 and came from two goals behind to draw Esperance at the venerable Stade Mohamed V. The Moroccans boast one of the best attacks in the event, with Mouhssine Iajour and Congo-born Fabrice Ondama leading the line.
For their part, Group A’s Enyimba have built a reputation for achieving away success and hard-fought results. They have won two and drawn another two matches on the road in the competition this year, and their defence has earned rave reviews. The People's Elephant will be looking to control Al Hilal’s Zimbabwean striker Edward Sadomba, who is the top scorer in this year’s competition with six goals. The Nigerians, meanwhile, will be pinning their hopes on their own in-form striker, Uche Kalu, whose four goals make him the most prolific scorer in the group stage.
The top two teams in each group qualify for the semi-finals, which will begin at the end of this month.