The final 16 teams in the CAF Champions League begin the first of two legs this weekend that will yield the eight teams to play in two groups to determine the semi-finalists.
CAF Champions league to begin second round with Al Ahly of Cairo facing Al Ahly Benghazi
Egyptians Al Ahly have won the past two editions of the CAF Champions League, and this year have a second chance in eight years to secure a record three consecutive titles.
The Cairo ‘Red Devils’ are away as the second round begins this weekend to namesakes Al Ahly Benghazi of Libya with the game switched to Tunisia because of security concerns.
Benghazi are coached by Egyptian Tarek Al Ashry and reached the second round with comfortable wins over Chadians Foullah Edifice and Ghanaians Berekum Chelsea.
Zimbabwean Edward Sadomba and Nigerian Solomon Jabason were among the Benghazi scorers in those games.
Eight-time champions Ahly received a preliminary bye, then needed a penalty shootout to edge Tanzanians Young Africans after each side won at home by a solitary goal.
Scoring has been a long-term problem for the Egyptians and veteran striker Emad Moteab has been ruled out by a recurring hamstring injury.
“Ahly are the best team in Africa,” says Al Ashry, “and if we can beat them we can beat any team in the Champions League.
“Let us give them the credit they deserve despite the close shave against Young Africans.”
After crushing Kenyans Gor Mahia, two-time title-holders Esperance visit Malians Real Bamako, who put out former champions FAR Rabat of Morocco and Nigerians Enyimba.
Meanwhile, a 30-year jinx hangs over Zambians Nkana ahead of their clash with Ahly compatriots Zamalek this weekend.
The clubs have met four times in the African club showpiece and the Cairo ‘White Knights’ have triumphed on aggregate every time.
Even a change of competition brought no luck to Nkana as they were eliminated by Zamalek 13 years ago in the now defunct African Winners Cup.
But after beating Swazis Mbabane Swallows and Ugandans KCCA in high-scoring thrillers, Zambian coach Masauso Mwale believes his side can overcome five-time champions Zamalek.
“I respect Zamalek, but we have watched tapes of them and they are beatable,” the coach told AFP from the Nkana base in central copper city Kitwe.
“Egyptian and Tunisian clubs have dominated CAF competitions because of their proximity to Europe and tactical discipline.
“But sub-Saharan clubs are catching up fast and will soon be the equals of great clubs like Zamalek, fellow Egyptians Al Ahly and Tunisians Esperance.”
Mwale said it was crucial for the 1990 Champions League runners-up to build a commanding first-leg lead at their rudimentary 10,000-seat stadium.
“Ideally, we want to finish off the tie this weekend,” he said although his team produced mixed results in previous home matches.
A Simon Bwalya hat-trick and a Ronald Kampamba double helped defeat Swallows 5-2 and overcome a shock reverse in Swaziland.
But Nkana were held 2-2 at home by 10-man KCCA and needed a Christopher Munthali goal in Kampala to secure a last-16 ticket.
Zamalek also faced southern Africa opponents in the last round, squeezing past Angolans Kabuscorp thanks to a goal in Cairo from veteran defender Mahmoud Fathallah.
The ‘Knights’ had three goals to spare over Nigeriens Douanes in a preliminary tie and are among six Champions League title-holders still challenging for the trophy this season.
Democratic Republic of Congo outfit Vita host South Africans Kaizer Chiefs at the Kinshasa stadium where Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.
TP Mazembe, the other DR Congo challengers, are away to Ivorians Sewe San Pedro while Algerians Entente Setif host Cameroonians Coton Sport.
Horoya, shock winners over 2013 Club World Cup runners-up Moroccans Raja Casablanca, have home advantage over Tunisians CS Sfaxien.
AC Leopards, who last year became the first Republic of the Congo club to reach the group stage, host vastly experienced Sudanese Al Hilal.
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