African clubs eye last 16
© AFP

With the lucrative group phase of the CAF Champions League just three games away, there is plenty at stake for the 32 clubs involved in this weekend's return legs of the first qualifying round. Most of the favourites take a comfortable lead into the game, but for a few there is still some work to be done. And for the outsiders left in the competition, there is the dream of knocking out a fancied club. The eventual winner of the competition will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco at the end of the year.

Match of the week
Al Ahly–Tusker FC
Taking a 2-1 lead from the away leg into their match in Alexandria against Tusker FC, the seven-times champions Al Ahly are favourites to advance to the second round. The Egyptian team could be without influential midfielder Hossam Ashour, who did not play in a mid-week match due to tooth problems. There was some good news though as coach Hossam El-Badry welcomed back experienced defender Sayed Moawad, who was out for several months with a foot injury. Their opponents though, are confident that they can become the first Kenyan team since 2001 to go through to the final qualifying round. No Kenyan side has ever won in Egypt, but captain Joseph Shikokoti is cautiously optimistic. “I am certain that we will have a good game. I am hoping that everything turns out right,” he said. “The squad is in good spirits, so we shall see."

Other matches
One of the favourites who face a tough hurdle are five-time champions Zamalek, who take a slender 1-0 lead into their away match in Congo DR against AS Vita Club. The in-form visitors are looking towards 21-year-old striker Mohamed Ibrahim and Ahmed Gaafar, who scored the winner in the first leg, to keep them in the competition. Four-time winners TP Mazembe won their away leg in Botswana against Mochudi Centre Chiefs 1-0, and are thus favoured to advance to the next round. Among the other first-leg victors were 2008 finalists Coton Sport, who won 1-0 in Côte d'Ivoire against AFAD Djekanou, and Stade Malien, who won 2-1 at Senegalese club Casa Sport.

Both Tunisian clubs in the competition are well placed to advance. Esperance, who won the event in 1994 and 2011, are 1-0 up against Primeiro de Agosto after their away game, while CA Bizertin secured a healthy 3-0 first-leg lead at home against Zimbabwean club Dynamos. Moroccan club FUS Rabat also take a 3-0 lead into their away clash in Cameroon against Union Douala. But not all North African clubs will find it easy as JSM Bejaia face an uphill battle. The Algerian side played to a goalless draw at home against Ghanaians Asante Kotoko and have to score in Kumasi to go through. The home side will be without left-back Ben Adama, who received a second booking in the first leg and is suspended for one game.

Player to watch
It was only last weekend that Nigeria’s Shehu Abdullahi was participating for the Flying Eagles in the African U-20 championships in Algeria. A week later, the defensive midfielder seems set to play his part in his club Kano Pillars' Champions League campaign. Having won the first leg against AC Leopards 4-1, Pillars' officials have said that the talented youngster will - most probably - be thrown in at the deep end against the Congolese club.

The stat
3 – The number of consecutive finals that Esperance of Tunisia have reached. They were defeated in 2010 by TP Mazembe and last year by Ahly, winning their second trophy in betweem.

What they said
“There are some people who think that we are going to South Africa just to donate points to Orlando Pirates, but football is not like that. We are also doing all we can and even in South Africa we will try our level best to win the match. We are asking for the nation to support us and pray for us but we are aware that prayers come with effort. You can’t just be asking for prayers while you are not doing anything yourself,” Zanaco coach Keegan Mumba, whose side lost their first round clash 1-0 at home against Orlando Pirates.

Have your say
Can Kano Pillare and Enugu Rangers go all the way to give Nigeria two teams in the group phase for the first time since 2009?