Zamalek seek more glory for Egypt

Just one week after conquering Africa at national team level Egypt launch a challenge for continental club glory. The annual CAF Champions League kicks off this weekend with 24 first round, first leg fixtures and among six former holders in action are Zamalek from Cairo.

Zamalek supplied a key cog of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008-winning team in Amr Zaky. The physically formidable striker, player-of-the-tournament Hosny Abd Rabou and Mohamed Aboutrika shared the honour of being the leading Egyptian scorers at the biennial tournament with four goals each.

Goalkeeper Mohamed Moncef and defenders Mahmoud Fathallah and Tarek al-Sayed were other Zamalek members of a 23-strong Pharaohs squad that defeated Cameroon 1-0 in the final last Sunday for a record sixth continental title. Now they must swap the international media spotlight of Ghana for Kigali, capital of the tiny central African country of Rwanda and home to military football club APR.

And experienced coach Ruud Krol, a pivotal figure in the majestic Dutch national teams of the 1970s, will be acutely aware of the potential perils awaiting Zamalek, who have won the competition a record equalling five times. APR, whose squad is a mix of Rwandans and stars from neighbouring countries, have embarrassed several big clubs at the 30,000-seater Amahoro Stadium in recent years.

Club Africain of Tunisia (1991), Entente Setif of Algeria (1988), Enyimba of Nigeria (2003 and 2004), FAR Rabat of Morocco (1985) and Hearts of Oak of Ghana (2000) are other former champions in action. FAR, a major disappointment after reaching the group phase last year, host Sporting Praia of the Cape Verde Islands, while Enyimba, the only Nigerian winners of the Champions League, entertain Diables Noir of Congo.

Club Africain, back after a 11-year absence, travel to newcomers Saloum of Senegal, Hearts tackle experienced international campaigners FC 105 in Gabon and another long absentee, Setif, face SNIM in Mauritania. Africa Sports, whose goalkeeper Tiasse Kone was the only local in the Africa Cup of Nations squad of fourth-placed Côte d'Ivoire, visit another club making their Champions League debut, Tonnerre of Benin.

Etoile bye
Cameroon, so strong at national team level with two firsts and a second from the last five Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, have not produced an African club champion since Canon Yaounde lifted the trophy 28 years ago. Cotonsport Garoua and Union Douala represent the central Africa nation this year and begin with away games against Vital'O of Burundi and ASKO Kara of Togo respectively.

Mamelodi Sundowns, the last South African club to make an impression by finishing runners-up to Al Ahly of Egypt in 2001, confront Miembeni on the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar. The second South African challengers, debutants Platinum Stars, entertain Correction Services of Lesotho while Swaziland police outfit Royal Leopards host 1998 runners-up Dynamos of Zimbabwe in another regional showdown.

Among the clubs receiving byes into the second round are holders Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, whose stunning 3-1 victory in Cairo last November prevented Al Ahly becoming the first club to win three consecutive titles.