The line-up for the CAF Champions League semi-finals could be complete after this weekend’s penultimate round. JS Kabylie are already through, Esperance require only a draw at home, and victory could prove enough for Al Ahly and TP Mazembe to advance.
The latter entertain struggling Dynamos knowing that if they better the result of ES Setif, who are away at Esperance, they will be just two ties away from successfully defending the trophy they lifted last November. The Congolese giants, who finished sixth at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, suddenly changed their coach after a 3-0 defeat in Tunisia in their last Group A game. Diego Garzitto, who guided them to their first African title in 40 years, vacated the hot-seat to assume the role of technical advisor at the club, and was replaced by Lamine N’Diaye.
The former Senegal coach can get his tenure off to the perfect start against Dynamos, who are bottom of the section, on Sunday. Mazembe are currently second, three points above Setif, who visit Esperance on Saturday. Tunisia international Oussama Darragi is expected back from injury to bolster Esperance’s chances, along with Khalil Chemmam and Walid Hicheri, whose participation had also been doubtful.
“Even if we have already beaten Entente [Setif] away from home and have the psychological edge, no match is ever won on paper,” warned Esperance defensive midfielder Mejdi Traoui, who won the CAF Champions League three years ago with Etoile Sahel.
“What made the difference in the first game between the sides in Algeria (Esperance were 1-0 victors) was our desire to win, but the context has changed now and the Algerians know they must win to keep up their hopes of qualifying. Therefore we’ll be up against a very committed team.”
Indeed, Setif travelled to Tunisia a week ahead of the match to prepare, which is an unusual step in the CAF Champions League, and have been lifted by the news that Faouzi Chaouchi, who represented Algeria at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, has been passed fit to play.
Setif midfielder Bouazza Feham said: “We have to believe in ourselves and take every opportunity that presents itself. With our style of play and quality, I’m sure we’ll create a few chances.”
Algeria’s other representatives, JS Kabylie, made sure of their last-four berth with a draw away to Al Ahly a fortnight ago. They can now celebrate in front their fans at the November 1 Stadium in Tizi Ouzou against another Egyptian side in Ismaily, the Group B tailenders.
That encounter is nevertheless overshadowed by a battle between Al Ahly and Heartland, last year’s runners-up, on Sunday night. The Nigerians are a point behind their second-placed hosts, so if Ahly emerge victorious and Ismaily fail to beat JSK on Friday, the Cairo heavyweights will make sure of a semi-final place with a game to spare.
Ahly will play without captain Ahmed Hassan. The influential midfielder has been ruled out for the next six months after cruciate ligament damage suffered in Egypt’s 1-1 draw with Sierra Leone in their CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the weekend.