African giants enter the fray

The preliminary round of the CAF Champions League has already offered its fair share of surprises and some lesser-known clubs are hoping to continue that trend as play moves on to the first leg matches in the first round proper.

Fans can look forward to several thrilling match-ups that will undoubtedly see some of the favourites sweating to make it through to the next round.

The 16 winners of the two-legged ties will advance to the final round of the initial knock-out competition, with the eventual winner of the tournament qualifying for the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco at the end of 2014.

Match of the week
Kaizer Chiefs – Liga Muculmana

South African glamour club Kaizer Chiefs have long had a love-hate relationship with continental competitions and have even twice been suspended from participation after withdrawing. They managed to win the now-defunct African Cup Winners’ Cup in 2001 but have struggled to make any inroads on the Champions League. Instead, they have had to sit on the sidelines as their bitter rivals Orlando Pirates won the competition in 1996 and finished runners-up last year. The Amakhosi are desperate to enjoy a prolonged run this time around, but will have to overcome stiff opposition from fellow southern African club Muculmana first. The Mozambicans are participating in the competition for the third time in their history and have yet to progress beyond the first round, but Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter is taking nothing for granted. “[The match] is the same as every home game in the tournaments that have two legs. You are looking for a solid result from your home leg and not to concede a goal and score as many goals as you can to take with you in defending in the second leg.”

Other contests
The pick of the remaining matches is the one between Congolese champions AC Leopards and Primeiro de Agosto from Angola. Leopards last year came agonizingly close to qualifying for the semi-finals, only losing out on the last group matchday. Their opponents have yet to progress to the group stage, and only entered the competition this time around by finishing second in the Angolan championship behind Kabuscorp. The clash between Stade Malien and Al-Hilal sees two teams with a rich tradition in the showpiece of continental competition fighting it out for a place in the second round. Al Hilal will be making their 27th appearance in the event, while Stade Malien, who last year made it to the semi-finals of the CAF Confederations Cup, will be competing for the 19th time. Cup holders and record eight-time champions Al Ahly, who received a bye into the first round, face Tanzanian club Young Africans and will fancy their chances of staying in the competition, while city rivals Zamalek are at home to Kabuscorp in the first leg.

Nigeria and Ghana, who both saw their participation in the competition halved in the preliminary rounds when Kano Pillar and Asante Kotoko were beaten by Vita Club and Barrack Young Controllers respectively, are looking to Berekum Chelsea and Enyimba to keep their country’s flags flying. Berekum, who needed a penalty shoot-out to qualify for the first round take on Al-Ahly Benghazi, while Enyimba meet Real Bamako. Enyimba striker Abdulrahman Bashir says Nigerians are expecting a lot from the club after Pillars were knocked out. “I think we have a good team with plenty players in various departments that can challenge for the title this year,” he said. Four-time African champions TP Mazembe, meanwhile, who last year played in the final of the Confederations Cup, face Les Astres for a place in the second round.

Player to watch
Young Africans striker Mrisho Ngasa has been on fire in the competition this year, with the Tanzanian international scoring consecutive hat-tricks in the first round against Comoros club Komorozine. Ngasa will find the going much tougher against Cairo giants Al Ahly, but if the Tanzanian champions hope to stand any chance of surprising the Red Devils, they will need to find goals and Ngasa could be the man to provide them.

The stat
16 -
The number of matches a team that began in the preliminary round will have to play if they reach the CAF Champions League final, which is a two-legged tie scheduled for October.

What they said
“I have no idea about their style of play, but I know they are an attack-minded side. We are ready to counter their strategy, and we are capable of getting a decent result away from home. Nobody gave us a chance against Al Merrikh but we went to Khartoum and won 2-0 against all odds,” Kampala City Council coach coach George ‘Best’ Nsimbe, whose side is taking on Zambia’s Nkana Red Devils after knocking out the favoured Sudanese in the previous round.

Have your say
Which team will be the surprise package of this year’s CAF Champions League competition? Could it be Barrack Young Controllers from Liberia or Ethiopian club Dedebit?