Sudanese giants Hilal, Merreikh set for final
A third CAF Confederation Cup final between clubs from the same country is on the cards with Sudanese sides Al Hilal and Al Merreikh favoured to qualify this weekend.
Hilal hold a 2-0 advantage over Djoliba of Mali going into the second leg of a semi-final in Bamako on Sunday, a day after Merreikh attempt to wipe out a 2-1 deficit against Congolese visitors AC Leopards in Omdurman.
An all-Sudan decider would maintain a pattern with two Tunisian teams in the final four years ago and two sides from Ghana squaring off in the first final four years earlier.
Although the Sudanese league does not rate among the strongest in Africa, Hilal and Merreikh usually employ foreign coaches, boost squads with 'imports' and generally enjoy good runs in Pan-African competitions.
Both started this year in the CAF Champions League, only to suffer losses in the final qualifying round and drop down to the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup.
Merreikh were runners-up to CS Sfaxien in the 2007 Confederation Cup and Hilal semi-finalists three seasons later, exiting after a penalty shoot-out against the same Tunisian club.
Hilal built the two-goal advantage over first-time semi-finalists Djoliba via goals just before and after half-time from Senegalese Ibrahima Sane and Sudan star Mudathir Eltaib.
The latter was among three Hilal stars on the original list of 32 nominations for the 2012 Africa-based CAF Footballer of the Year award, the others being Sudan defender Omar Bakheet and Zimbabwe striker Edward Sadomba.
Veteran Egypt goalkeeper Essam Al Hadary and goal-scoring defender Ahmed Al Basha were the Merreikh stars on a list since whittled down to five with no one from the Omdurman clubs surviving the cut.
Djoliba defeated Hilal 2-0 in a 2010 Confederation Cup group game and boast an unbeaten home record in the competition this season, winning three matches and drawing one with a 7-2 goal tally.
Leading scorers Alou Bagayoko and Idrissa Traore could prove the big threats to Hilal as Djoliba try to go all the way and emulate compatriots Stade Malien, surprise winners of the Confederation Cup three seasons ago.
Leopards, who eliminated two-time winners Sfaxien and title holders Moghreb Fes of Morocco en route to the group phase, can draw comfort from scoring in six of seven away Cup outings this year.
Eric Nyemba, another CAF nominee, and Rudy Guelord Bhebey-Ndey have netted four times each for the Congolese and will require close policing from a Merreikh side that has won all four home games, but twice conceded two goals.