Although there are 26 CAF Champions League matches to play before the two-legged final at the end of the year, it is already certain that two of the teams in the semi-finals will come from the Maghreb region. The recent draw matched Tunisian clubs Esperance and CS Sfaxien with Ah Ahly Benghazi of Libya and Algeria's ES Setif in Group B. Group A also features a clash of two teams from the same country with former champions Vita Club and TP Mazembe from the DR Congo up against Egypt's Zamalek and Al Hilal of Sudan. The eventual winner of the competition will represent the continent in December's FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco.
Match of the week
CS Sfaxien-Al Ahly Benghazi
Having already achieved their best-ever result in the competition, Al Ahly Benghazi will be playing their first game in the group phase. After knocking out the defending champions – Cairo namesakes Al Ahly – in the second round, the Libyan club will fancy their chances to secure a semi-final berth. However, their task will not have been made easier by the fact that officials have ruled that security concerns in Libya will mean them having to play their home games in neighboring countries. Their opponents, CS Sfaxien, were runners-up in 2006 and champions of Tunisia last term. They also are the only club in the competition that have won all the matches they have played and conceded just one goal in their four contests.
The other Tunisian club involved in the competition, Esperance, also start their campaign at home as they take on Setif, who won the competition in 1988 but whose last appearance in the group stage dates back to 2010. Egyptian club Zamalek are away at Vita Club, where officials have restricted the number of fans allowed into the stadium to 5,000 after the recent tragic stampede at a match between the home side and TP Mazembe. The visiting Knights are coached by former Egyptian star player Mido, who took over in January and is in his first stint as coach and will be closely watched to see how he deals with the pressure of being in charge of a club at the highest level. The former Tottenham Hotspur, Roma and Ajax player said that he expects a tough match. "The African Champions League is a competition that brings together powerful teams. Playing them requires top-class players,” he said.
TP Mazembe, who won back-to-back titles starting in 2009, are away to Omdurman-based Al Hilal, who are considered by many as the best team never to have won the competition. They lost two finals and thrice made it to the semis and will be playing in front of a fanatical crowd. Mazembe though, are strong enough to take on any opponent and with their foreign trio of Solomon Asante, Mbwana Samata and Reinford Kalaba they have offensive players able to breakdown any defence.
Player to watch
Although he has only just turned 21, Haythem Jouini has become an exciting wild card for the powerful Esperance side that is attempting to reach the semi-finals for the fifth year on the trot. Jouini, who came through the youth ranks of the Blood and Gold, is the competition's joint-top scorer at this stage. Like Young Africans' striker Mrisho Ngasa, Jouini has managed six goals in just four games. A predator in front of goal, the Tunisian – who is yet to play for the Carthage Eagles – has found the back of the net in all four matches, and his club are hoping he can continue that run as they open their group phase campaign at home against North African rivals Setif.
13 - The number of times the remaining clubs have won this competition. Cairo giants Zamalak have won five, Mazembe four, while Esperance have two and Vita Club and ES Setif have each won the showpiece event of African club football once.
What they said
"It will be an open game. I am wary of all teams in the group phase, and Al Hilal are there on merit, not by chance. It is always difficult to play against Sudanese teams because they play good football and have an audience that knows how to shake the opposing team,” TP Mazembe's Zambian international Jonas Sakuwaha, who spent three years playing in Sudan for Al-Merreikh.
Have your say
Can TP Mazembe and Vita Club or Esperance and CS Sfaxien advance to the last four and keep alive the chance of a first-ever final between teams from the same country?