With just one game to go before the lucrative group stage of the CAF Champions League gets underway, all 16 clubs remaining in the competition have a lot to play for. The first leg matches in the second round of qualifying saw just one three-goal victory, with Coton Sport beating Stade Malien. Five of the eight games ended in draws, and so remain evenly-poised, and surprisingly some of the favourites - like five-times winners Zamalek - will have to win away from home to advance.
The eight winners of the ties will go through to the group stage, while the eight losers will continue their continental quest as they enter the 2013 CAF Confederation Cup play-off round. The winner of the Champions League will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco later this year.
Match of the week
Al Ahly – CA Bizertin
Having played out a goalless draw in the away leg in Bizerte a fortnight ago, the defending champions Ahly are the favourites to advance to the group phase. But they are taking nothing for granted, as young midfielder Shehab Ahmed explained: “CA Bizertin are a very strong side and the game will not be easy. We have to go for a win." The 22-year-old, who famously scored the winner four minutes into injury time against Libyan club Ittihad in the final Champions League qualifying round in 2010, said that it was a huge advantage for the side to play at home. "The away trip was not easy as all the security measures made it difficult to focus. This will not be the case at home." The Red Devils, whose coach Hossam El Badry hinted earlier this week that he might be leaving the club at the end of the season, were on Monday ordered by CAF to play four games (two of which are suspended) behind closed doors as punishment for an excessive amount of flares in the stands.
The other Egyptian giants Zamalek, who are the second-most successful club in the history of the competition behind their domestic rivals, face a tough away trip to Ethiopia, where they take on Saint George. The White Knights will be without injured defender Salah Soliman, forward Yussef Hassan and goalkeeper Mahmoud Hamdy, but they will be able to call on Abdoulaye Cisse. The Burkina Faso striker, who scored his side's goal in the 1-1 draw in the first leg, has recovered from a minor injury in his right foot. Also looking for an away win are Nigerian club Enugu Rangers, who played out a goalless draw against Angolan club Recreativo do Libolo in the first leg.
Côte d'Ivoire club Sewe Sports are at home against FUS de Rabat, with the Moroccans having to score at least once after drawing their home game 1-1. FUS have been bad travellers so far this season in the competition, having lost both away matches in the previous rounds and will be facing a Sewe team that has been unbeaten in their last six league matches and won the last five. Cameroon club Coton Sport, who were losing finalists in 2008, won their home leg 3-0 against Mali representatives Stade Malien. Goalkeeper Loïc Feudjou has said that they should not take anything for granted though. "Our first leg was very difficult. Stade Malien is a good team. They are physically strong and technically gifted."
Player to watch
Striker Sunday Mba was a revelation for the Super Eagles at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year and he now seems on course to make his debut in the Champions League after being cleared by Warri Wolves to play for Enugu Rangers against Recreativo do Libolo this weekend.
1 – The number of goals that JSM Bejaia have conceded in their five matches in the qualifying rounds so far this season. However, the Algerian club were held to a goalless draw at home by two-time champions Esperance in the first leg and will have their work cut out for them if they want to advance to the group phase for the first time in their history.
What they said
"Our approach against Orlando Pirates has to be to score two goals. Our league victory against Vita Club on the weekend will allow the players to prepare for the very important game against Pirates without extra pressure," TP Mazembe coach Lamine Ndiaye, whose side needs to overcome a 3-1 deficit against Orlando Pirates from the first leg.
Have your say
Can AC Leopards hold onto their 3-1 lead from the first leg against Algerian club ES Setif to become the first club from Congo to play in the group stage?