Holders start semis with tough test
© AFP

The final matchday of the CAF Champions League group phase saw the already-qualified four-time champions TP Mazembe slump to a 1-0 defeat in Ghana against Berekum Chelsea. The defeat meant they finished runners-up in Group B behind Egyptian giants Al Ahly, which, in turn, saw them qualify for a semi-final against defending champions Esperance.

The Tunisians were assured of topping Group A after compatriots Etoile du Sahel were disqualified from the competition, and they beat out second place Sunshine Stars. The Nigerian club, who lost their final group game in Algeria against ASO Chlef, will meet Al Ahly in the semi-finals as the only club left in the competition not to have won it before.
 
The semi-finals and finals are both two-legged affairs played home and away in October and November respectively. The winner of the tournament qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan at the end of the year.
 
Match of the week
TP Mazembe – Esperance
The two clubs have divided the last three Champions League titles among themselves, with Les Corbeaux (The Crows) from the Democratic Republic of Congo winning in 2009 and 2010.

They were denied a chance to secure a hat-trick of titles when they were disqualified from the competition last season after fielding an improperly registered player. The rivalry between Mazembe and Esperance in the Champions League dates back to 2001, when both clubs won their home matches in the group stage.

In 2010, Mazembe trounced Esperance 6-1 on aggregate in the final. Against the Blood and Gold, Mazembe coach Lamine N'Diaye will again be looking to his Zambian contingent as well as top scorers Tresor Mputu and Tanzanian Mbwana Samata to provide a win at home.
 
Other match
Nigerian representatives Sunshine Stars, who have already surpassed expectations by advancing to the last four at their first attempt, have not enjoyed the best of preparations for their game against The Reds. A dispute over money led to a player strike, which was ended ahead of the game in Ijebu Ode, when officials paid the players some of the money they said was owing.

Although the Egyptian club will go into the two-legged clash as favourites, they have vowed not to underestimate their opponents. “We watched some of their matches in the Nigerian League and in the African Champions League, and we found them to be very fast. We will have to stop their speed,” said former Al Ahly player Mohamed Youssef, who is now assistant coach.

Al Ahly, who will be without suspended Mohamed Aboutrika, who captained the Egyptian Olympic side in London as one of their over-age players, will probably also be without teenager Mahmoud Hassan. The midfielder, who is known as “Trezeguet”, has been called up for the Egyptian youth side that will be playing in an African Youth Championship qualifier in Angola on the same weekend.
 
Player to watch
With a move to Swiss club Sion on the cards during the winter transfer season, Cameroon striker Yannick N'djeng will be keen to leave defending champions Esperance on a high. The 22-year-old, who spent three seasons with Algerian club JSM Bejaia before joining the Tunisian giants last season, is his club's top scorer in the competition along with Youssef Msakni, who is also set to depart at the end of the year. Both men have scored four goals.

The stat
6 –
The record number of titles that Al Ahly have won in the showpiece of African club football. However, their last victory dates back to 2008 when they beat Coton Sport FC de Garoua. Since then, their fans have been waiting as TP Mazembe and Esperance have been ruling the roost in African club football.
 
What they said
“We wanted to meet Esperance of Tunis this year. We are therefore very pleased that the results of the competition have answered our prayers. We have been preparing ourselves for some time,” TP Mazembe president Moise Katumbi.
 
Have your say
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