Troubled time for Tunisians

Tunisian clubs have long been a mainstay of African club competition and have amassed a proud record of both participation and success over the past decade in the CAF Champions League.

From the time the league format was first introduced in 1997 up until 2007, Tunisian sides always made it through to the last eight with Etoile Sahel winning the competition outright in 2007 as well as being runner-up several times, while CS Sfaxien and the popular Tunis club Esperance have also given good accounts of themselves and Tunisian football.

It was only last year that their unbroken run of reaching the last eight was broken when both Club Africain and defending champions Etoile Sahel were knocked out in the last round of the preliminaries.

Club Africain were on the wrong end of an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Nigerian giants Enyimba, but Etoile Sahel's departure after home and away losses to Zimbabwe-base Dynamos was the shock of the year in African football.

This year there is again the surprise possibility of an early exit for the usually competitive Tunisian representation and once again it is Club Africain's and Etoile's places which are under threat.

Club Africain have a mountain to climb to extricate themselves from a dire situation as they head to Bamako to face Djoliba in Mali on Sunday, having already lost 2-1 at home in the first leg. Etoile Sahel, meanwhile, take a slender 2-1 lead for the derby match against ASO Chlef of Algeria, who they meet on Saturday. Although Nigerian striker Emeka Opara has made a quicker than expected recovery from injury, they will be without international striker Medhi Ben Dhifallah.

Tunisia can draw some posisble consolation from the fact they are not the only north African nation under the perilous threat of seeing their club's early elimination for their teams. Morocco, too, will have concern about the chances of Royal Armed Forces and Ittihad Khemisset.

The army side will have coach Mohamed Fakhir back after a full recovery from a health scare which saw him miss their last league game against Olympique Khouribga, which resulted in a 5-0 win. But they now have to overcome a 3-1 deficit from the first leg against Heartland FC of Nigeria in Rabat on Saturday. Ittihad Khemisset are 2-1 down against Asante Kotoko, one of the most successful club sides in the history of African football.

Former African champions JS Kabylie of Algeria go to Libya with a 2-1 deficit after a surprise home defeat in the first leg of their tie against Al Ahli Tripoli. It will take a Herculean effort for JSK to extricate themselves from this prickly predicament but defender Idrissa Coulibaly believes that redemption is possible.

"Of course I believe we can turn it around. If I didn't I would have stayed at home," he told reporters on arrival in Tripoli for Saturday's match. "I recognise it will not be an easy mission by we have no other choice but to go for it and try and do it," added the Malian import.

At the other end of the continent, South African clubs are also in trouble in their bid to progress to the third round. Champions SuperSport United are 2-1 down going into the second leg of their tie against Kampala City Council and because their usual venue is being re-seeded for the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup, they are being forced to play the match in Johannesburg. Ajax Cape Town take a slender 3-2 lead to neighbouring Zimbabwe, where they take on tricky opposition in the form of debutants Monomotapa.

The 16 winners progress to the third and final knockout round which is being played over two legs on the weekends of 17-19 April and 1-3 May.