With the CAF Champions League group phase reaching the half-way stage this weekend, there is all to play for, for the eight teams still involved in the competition. The highlight of the four matches should be the Tunisian derby between Esperance and Sfaxien, with the former being under pressure to produce a result after two defeats. The winner of the competition will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year in Morocco.
Match of the week
Esperance – CS Sfaxien
Esperance, who fired coach Ruud Krol after their defeat against Libyan club Al Ahly on the last matchday, are with their back against the wall as they are bottom of the group without a point. Their domestic rivals, Sfaxien, on the other hand, top Group B with four points from their two matches. Sfaxien coach Hammadi Daou will be without the injured Bassem Boulaabi and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, who is suspended. Esperance coach Sebastien Desabre, who last year took Coton Sport to the semi-finals of the competition, told journalists he believed his players could turn things around. “We have beaten them twice in the domestic league and we can do it again in the African Champions League. I know we can still qualify and that is why I still accepted the mission. It will be not easy, but I trust in my players." The Frenchman will be looking towards Haythem Jouini for the goals to get their challenge back on track. Jouini is joint top scorer in the competition with Mrisho Ngasa. Both have scored six goals.
The other game in Group B sees Algerian club ES Setif at home to Libyan high-fliers Al Ahly Benghazi, who knocked out the title holders - their Cairo names-sakes - in the final round of qualifying. Setif, who won their opening match at Esperance, are second to Sfaxien only on goal difference, while Al Ahly are on three points. Setif's preparations were somewhat disrupted by the decision of Franco-Algerian midfielder Khaled Gourmi to leave the club. The visitors will be wary to break down the danger posed by El Hedi Belameiri, who has scored in five of Setif's six matches.
Group A remains evenly poised with all four clubs on three points after having won one and lost one. The pick of the matches in the group is the one between TP Mazembe and Zamalek. Between them, they have won the competition nine times. Mazembe played two friendly matches in Zambia in preparation for their clash against the Egyptians and have also welcomed the news that Zambian internationals, midfielder Rainford Kalaba, striker Given Singuluma and defender Kabaso Chongo, have been released from an international friendly against Japan to concentrate on their continental duties. Zamalek travel to Lubumbashi on Sunday hoping to inflict a first home defeat in the competition on TP Mazembe since October 2009. The other Congolese club remaining in the competition, AS Vita Club, travels to Sudan for their encounter against Al Hilal for the first meeting before the two teams. Vita will be without central defender Thierry Kasereka, who was involved in a recent traffic accident.
Player to watch
Although Daddy Birori has not featured regularly for Congolese club AS Vita Club in the competition, the Rwandan international will go into his side's Group A game against Sudanese club Al Hillal with his confidence sky-high after scoring a hat-trick for his country in an 2015 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya, that saw his country through 3-0 on aggregate. Vita coach Florent Ibenge could well opt to give the striker a run in Sudan after his scoring exploits for his country. Birori scored the only goal of the tie against Zimbabwean club Dynamos in the qualifiers that saw Vita through to the final round of qualifying.
4 - The number of times that Tunisian teams have clashed in the group stage of the CAF Champions League. All four previous matches were between Esperance and Etoile, with the Blood and Gold winning both matches in 2012. The matches were, however, annulled after Etoile were disqualified from the competition. In 2005 both games between the two sides ended in draws. The game between Esperance and CS Sfaxien will be the fifth time that Tunisian clubs go head-to-head in the Champions League group stage.
What they said
"The worst outcome will be a 2-0 win,” said a smiling TP Mazembe coach Patrice Carteron when asked about a prediction for his side's game against Zamalek.
Have your say
Can new coach Sebastien Desabre bring a reversal of fortunes for Tunisian giants Esperance, who have lost both opening matches in the competition and now face Tunisian rivals CS Sfaxien in their third game?