Big boys join the fight
© AFP

With just four matches separating clubs from a place in the lucrative group phase of the CAF Champions League, the first-leg of the first round ties are bound to produce plenty of drama. Moghreb Teotouan were amongst the clubs eliminated in the preliminary round and the favourites, including eight teams that received byes into this round, will be eager to avoid the fate of the Moroccan team.

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

Match of the week
Primeiro de Agosto - Esperance de Tunis
The 2011 African champions Esperance face a daunting away trip to Luanda in their match against the nine-time Angolan champions. Primeiro, who qualified for the competition after finishing second in the Girabola behind Recreativo do Libolo, have only once progressed into the group stage of the lucrative competition. Although the Blood and Gold will go into the tie as favourites, their coach Maher Kanzari has warned his players not to underestimate their opponents. "They are a technical side and we have to be weary of them. The first rounds of the competition always produce surprises and that is why we have to be very cautious.” Kanzari's only injury concern is forward Haythem Jouini, but should he be unavailable, Kanzari can also call upon last season's top scorer Ghanaian Emmanuel Clottey.

Other matches
Headlining the other matches is the southern African derby between South African champions Orlando Pirates and their Zambian counterparts Zanaco, whose coach Keagan Mumba said their team will be ready for the clash. “We know what to expect of Pirates. They are a very good team with good mobility but we have a plan for them. They won the tournament in 1995 and deserve respect, but we will make sure that we win our game at home to make our job easy for the second leg in Orlando.”

Title holders Al Ahly have an injury concern in Al-Sayed Hamdi, who could be out of their game in Kenya against Tusker after the striker had to be substituted because of a hamstring injury during their 2-1 league victory on the weekend. Zamalek, the other Egyptian team in the competition, likewise have worries over Hazem Emam, but reports suggest the winger has recovered from injury and should be able to play against Congo DR’s Vita Club. Former champions TP Mazembe, who play away in Botswana against Mochudi Centre Chiefs, will have to make due without Zambian international Nathan Sinkala, Rwandan defender Mao Kasongo Kabiona and Mali striker Ousmane Cisse, who were not registered in time but should be available for the next round if The Crows qualify.

Nigerian clubs Kano Pillars and Enugu Rangers take on last year’s CAF Confederation Cup winners AC Leopards and Burundi’s Vital'O respectively. Pillars' coach Mohammed Baba Ganaru, whose side are at home in the first leg, said that all matches in the Champions League were tough, "but we are ready to face them". Zimbabwean champions Dynamos, who were finalists in 1998 and advanced to the semi-finals ten years later, are sweating over the fitness of Partson Jaure and Tawanda Muparati ahead of their trip to Tunisia for their match against CA Bizertin.

Players to watch
Orlando Pirates' Takesure Chinyama and Mamadou Soro of Ivorian club AFAD Djekanou have been on fire in the Champions League. Zimbabwean Chinyama scored four in Pirates' first-leg victory against Djabal Club and added a fifth in the return leg, while Soro scored all five in AFAD's 5-1 first-leg victory against Diamond Stars.

The stat
16
- The number of teams that will be eliminated from the competition at the end of the two-legged ties taking place 15-17 March and 5-7 April as well as the number of clubs that will advance to the final round before the eight-team group phase.

What they said
"Although we are taking the games as they come, we have our sight glued on the ‘money zone’. We want to go far in the competition. I am very optimistic that I can score more goals to win [top scorer] at the end of the competition. Of course that will mean helping the team to go all the way to the final,” Asante Kotoko striker Abdul Yusuf Aziz ahead of the Ghanaian's tie with Algeria's JSM Bejaia.

Have your say
Will Enugu Rangers and Kano Pillars continue Nigeria’s five-year run of having a club in the group phase?