Tunisian clubs do battle in Africa

Tunisian clubs have won the last two editions of the African Confederation Cup and four of the 16 survivors this year come from the North African country.

But the luck of the draw means no more than three can survive the fourth and last knockout round of a annual competition modelled on Europe's UEFA Cup and carrying a $330,000 first prize.

Etoile Sahel and Esperance, the most successful Tunisian clubs on the international circuit, clash this weekend while Club Africain host Djoliba of Mali and title holders CS Sfaxien face Platinum Stars in South Africa.

InterClube of Angola play Mount Cameroon, JS Kabylie of Algeria meet Astres Douala of Cameroon, Olympic Khouribga of Morocco face Al-Merreikh of Sudan and Al-Ittihad of Libya tackle Asante Kotoko of Ghana in other fixtures.

The feature first leg match pits the Red Devils of Etoile against the Blood and Gold of Esperance in a repeat of the Tunisian Cup final, won 2-1 by Esperance last weekend.

Etoile have home advantage this time, and will surely pay special attention to veteran Morocco striker Hicham Aboucherouane, scorer of both goals for the cup winners in Tunis.

Confederation Cup title holders two years ago, Sahel went one better last November under French coach Bertrand Marchand by lifting the African Champions League at the expense of overwhelming favourites Al-Ahly of Egypt.

However, the only team to win all five African Football Confederation club competitions made a shock final qualifying round exit from the Champions League last May, losing 1-0 at home and away to modest Dynamos of Zimbabwe.

The consolation for Sahel and the other seven Champions League losers was a second chance of African glory via the Confederation Cup, which started in 2004 and has also been won by Hearts of Oak of Ghana and FAR Rabat of Morocco.

Esperance are among eight clubs who survived three rounds of Confederation Cup eliminators and the Tunis team coached by Brazilian Carlos Cabral must be slight favourites to reach the group phase starting next month.

Former African champions Club Africain are expected to establish a lead over Djoliba, while far greater international exposure should benefit Sfaxien against a Platinum side lacking big-name footballers.

Comeback kings
InterClube will be wary of comeback kings Mount Cameroon, who have already claimed one Angolan victim, eliminating Primeiro Maio in a second round tie that produced two away victories.

Mount then staged the greatest recovery of the African Confederation Cup with Francis Evambe scoring a hat-trick as they trounced Ajax Cape Town of South Africa 5-0 to overcome a four-goal first leg deficit.

Kabylie have changed coaches with Saudi Arabia-bound Moussa Saib succeeded by widely travelled Romanian Alexandre Moldovan and the Algerian 'Canaries' appear too strong for workmanlike Astres.

Khouribga hope to exploit the poor away record of 2007 Confederation Cup runners-up Merreikh, while Ittihad may battle to build a lead over new Ghana champions Kotoko.

South African clubs have often lacked the imagination to pierce North African defences, and Mamelodi Sundowns could become the latest victims as Harras al-Hodoud come to Pretoria having conceded just one goal in four outings.