Mazembe prepare for Champions League defence

FIFA Club World Cup runners-up TP Mazembe will begin their quest for a record third consecutive CAF Champions League title against Tanzanian or Comorian opposition.

The Congolese side received a first-round bye when the three-round qualifying draw for the 2011 competition was released by the African Football Confederation (CAF) in Cairo on Monday. And they will face Elan Club Mitsoudje from Comoros Islands or Simba Sports Club of Tanzania in the second round with four-time African champions Mazembe enjoying home advantage first.

Comoros, a group of islands off the east coast of Africa, are a recent addition to the African football family and Mitsoudje are unlikely to stop regular international campaigners Simba reaching the last-32 stage. Should Mazembe progress to the third and final elimination round ahead of the lucrative group phase, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco or Kano Pillars of Nigeria are the likeliest opponents.

Mazembe created history in the United Arab Emirates city of Abu Dhabi last weekend by becoming the first African club to reach the final of the FIFA Club World Cup. Despite the absence of talisman Mabi Mputu, serving a one-year ban for assaulting a referee during a regional tournament in Rwanda last May, the Congolese defeated Pachuca of Mexico and Internacional of Brazil.

However, no sooner had the Mazembe footballers received their silver medals and captain Kazembe Mihayo a multimillion-dollar cheque than club owner Moise Katumbi was plotting a third consecutive CAF Champions League title. "We are going home and will immediately start preparing our team to win the African title a third consecutive time," promised the governor of the copper-rich Katanga province and billionaire businessman.

Esperance, trounced 6-1 over two legs by Mazembe in the African final last month, also received a first-round bye and launch their challenge against ASPAC of Benin or Deportivo Mongomo of Equatorial Guinea. Al Ahly of Egypt, African champions a record six times, meet SuperSport United of South Africa or Matlama of Lesotho and Cairo neighbours Zamalek tackle Ulinzi Stars of Kenya.

First round matches in the premier CAF club championship with a 1.5-million-dollar first prize will be staged over the weekends of 28-30 January and 11-13 February with the second round during March and April. CAF African Confederation Cup title holders FUS Rabat of Morocco got a bye into the last-32 round of the second-tier championship where they play Senegalese lower-league club Toure Kounda Mbour or Ports Authority of Sierra Leone.