African leaders look to keep out front
© AFP

Three former champions, including holders TP Mazembe Englebert, will look to build on good starts to the CAF Champions League and solidify their command of the final group stage at the continental showpiece this weekend.

DR Congo’s Englebert, Esperance of Tunisia and Algeria’s JS Kabylie all won away in the opening round of group matches a fortnight ago and look well placed for a spot in October’s semi-finals if they can claim another three points at the second try. All three can claim home advantage with Englebert and Esperance potentially going six points clear in the top two places of Group A. Mazembe inaugurate their new artificial pitch at the Kenya Stadium in Lubumbashi on Sunday against Entente Setif of Algeria, while Esperance will take on Dynamos of Zimbabwe on Saturday. Also on Saturday, JS Kabylie, who are hosting Nigeria’s Heartland FC, can move to six points from six as well if they win in Tizi-Ouzou in Group B.

But all of these games will be overshadowed by the Egyptian derby in Cairo where Al Ahly hosts Ismaili on Sunday in a contest made all the more special because it is a rare meeting between teams from the same country in the group phase of the Champions League. In the first round, Ahly gained a valuable point away in Nigeria earlier this month but Ismaili suffered a home defeat to JS Kabylie. Another loss for Ismaili would leave them floundering, but the acquisition of Nigerian striker Ndubuisi Eze has the potential to be a significant boost, given his past experience the later stages of the CAF Champions League when he played for Al Hilal of Sudan.

We need at all costs to recover from our loss at home in the first round. The game against Mazembe is a watershed for us.
Entente Setif striker Nabil Hemani

Eze may not be the only new face to line up on Sunday night as Al Ahly’s recent signing, Mohamed Gedo may make an appearance. Top scorer at January's CAF Africa Cup of Nations and scorer of the winner in the final for Egypt, Gedo was previously left out of the Al Ahly team for the match in Owerri against Heartland, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Last season in Egypt’s premier league, both meetings between Ahly and Ismaili ended in a 1-1 draw.

Mazembe had a run out on their new pitch last weekend in beating a provincial selection in a festival match to mark the re-opening of the extensively renovated stadium, where they have had overwhelming past success. Entente Setif will not be an easy opponent despite the Algerians losing at home in the first set of group matches to Esperance. Setif have been preparing for the trip to the Congo by hosting a training camp in Egypt.

“We need at all costs to recover from our loss at home in the first round. The game against Mazembe is a watershed for us. We have to make sure we do not return home empty-handed,” Setif’s striker Nabil Hemani said in the build-up to Sunday’s game. Away defeats for both Setif and Dynamos would leave them with a massive catch-up task. Dynamos lost 2-0 at home to Mazembe in their opening Group A game and then had an eight game winning streak in Zimbabwe’s premier league ended last weekend.

Fixtures

GROUP A
On Saturday
In Tunis: Esperance (Tunisia) v Dynamos (Zimbabwe) (19h30)
On Sunday
In Lubumbashi: TP Mazembe Englebert (DR Congo) v Entente Setif (Algeria) (13h30)

GROUP B
On Saturday
In Tizi-Ouzou: JS Kabylie (Algeria) v Heartland FC (Nigeria) (20h00)
On Sunday
In Cairo: Al Ahli (Egypt) v Ismaili (Egypt) (17h30)