Esperance, Ahly look to consolidate
© AFP

The CAF Champions League will hit the halfway point after this weekend’s contests as North African giants Esperance and Al Ahly try to put one foot in the semi-finals. The top two clubs in each group advance to the semi-finals, and the winner of the competition qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup.

Game of the week
Esperance – Etoile du Sahel
After a season in which they won a treble that included this competition, Esperance are well positioned to duplicate the historic achievement. Leading the league, alive in the national cup and on top of Group A with two wins from two matches on the continent, the Blood and Gold can send a message to all challengers on the outskirts of Tunis when they host the first of two Tunisian derbies in the next fortnight on Sunday. In the midst of a break for Ramadan, the two-time African champions have done some bolstering to their defensive half of the pitch, adding a pair of experienced Tunisia internationals to the mix – Houcine Ragued and Chaker Zouaghi – the latter of whom played for Sahel before a couple of seasons in Switzerland. The Red Devils reached the Champions League final three times in four years, winning it in 2007, and they have not been resting on their laurels either, signing Nigerien Moussa Maazou in July, and the forward dynamo could replace the injured Hamed Namouchi.

Other matches
Fighting to get back in the Group A reckoning are Sunshine Stars and ASO Chlef, on one and zero points respectively after two rounds. The Nigerians will host the Algerians in Ijebu-Ode also on Sunday with the Champions League debutants buoyed by a scoreless draw at Etoile du Sahel on 21 July but knowing that anything less than a win could leave them too far off the pace with two of their last three contests away. Veteran coach Rachid Belhout is trying to rally Chlef despite a deflating loss in the last round at Esperance when they seemed to have the match won after going ahead in the 85th minute. He will also have to shuffle his team to cover for a shorthanded midfield and attack as the important creative duo of Maamar Bentoucha and Mohamed Messaoud are both suspended, while there are also injury question marks around Mohamed Zaouche and striker Karim Ali Hadji.

Al Ahly are in the same position atop Group B as Esperance, and the six-time champions are at home against Berekum Chelsea looking to move to a commanding nine points after three rounds. Playing again in front of an empty Military Academy Stadium on Saturday, the Cairo giants will be without in-form Mohamed Aboutrika and Emad Meteab, who are away with the Olympic team at London 2012. With Ivorian striker Oussou Konan out with injury, the pressure could fall on Walid Soliman up front, but the 27-year-old striker is dealing with a hamstring strain of his own. The attacking focus on the other side is most certainly with Chelsea’s Emmanuel Clottey, who has been linked with a host of major clubs in Africa and Europe after tallying 11 times to be top scorer in the event.

Both Zamalek and TP Mazembe have suffered from Clottey’s form over the last month, and the five-time and four-time champions need to come good on Saturday. The Congo DR side have just one point after giving up a two-goal advantage to Clottey and Chelsea a fortnight ago and opening with defeat at Ahly. The Whites have no points at all and will be hard-pressed to get things going in Lubumbashi after the departure of manager Hassan Shehata, who lasted for just a year in the hot seat. Caretaker coach Ismail Youssef will welcome back striker Razak Omotoyossi, who was seemingly on his way out of the club following a pay dispute. His presence could be vital considering the departure of Shikbala on loan to UAE and the absence of “distracted” Amr Zaki, who is reportedly close to a move to Turkey.

Player to watch
The key player for Niger as they qualified for their first CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 2012, the impressive Moussa Maazou was rumoured to be on his way to South Africa following time in Russia, Belgium and France, but the 23-year-old instead joined Etoile du Sahel and should make his second appearance this weekend.

The stat
0 –
The number of goals given up by Etoile du Sahel in their first two group matches, while their opponents Esperance have scored in all six of their Champions League contests this term.

What they said

"We have to start aggressively and put pressure on them, and I believe if we play without fear we can win,” Hans van der Pluijm, Berekum Chelsea coach.

Have your say
Will Emmanuel Clottey break the season Champions League scoring mark of 13 goals?