Cairo giants square off in CAF Champions League

Bitter Cairo rivals Al Ahly and Zamalek were pitted against each other when the CAF Champions League draw was made in the Egyptian capital Tuesday.

The two most successful teams in the premier African club competition are in Group A with AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville and Orlando Pirates of South Africa. Al Ahly defeated Esperance of Tunisia 3-2 over two legs last November to claim a record-extending seventh African title.

Former champions Esperance are in Group B with Coton Sport of Cameroon and newcomers Sewe San Pedro of Ivory Coast and Recreativo Libolo of Angola. Each club plays its three rivals at home and away between 19 July and 22 September with group winners and runners-up advancing to the semi-finals.

Apart from a €1.16m first prize, the eight survivors from three rounds of qualifiers are chasing a 2013 FIFA Club World Cup berth. The annual tournament brings together champion clubs from each FIFA confederation and this year Morocco will become the first African hosts.

Ahly defeated and drew with Zamalek in the Champions League group phase last season and also have first-hand knowledge of Leopards. The clubs clashed last February in the CAF Super Cup with Ahly edging 2012 CAF Confederation Cup winners Leopards 2-1 in Alexandria.

There will also be plenty of video material on 1995 champions Pirates to scrutinise as most South African games are screened by Pan-African station SuperSport. Group A appears the tougher with Ahly and five-time Champions League winners Zamalek favoured to make the semi-finals.

Esperance, winners once and runners-up twice in the past three editions, are the club to beat in Group B with Coton Sport slight favourites to finish runners-up. But Sewe San Pedro shocked Al-Hilal of Sudan in the second elimination round and Recreativo Libolo boast the best record of the eight title challengers. The Angolans won five games and drew the other when disposing of Simba of Tanzania, El-Merreikh of Sudan and Enugu Rangers of Nigeria.