Football: Africa’s finest get back underway

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This year’s group stage in the CAF Champions League is essentially knotted up at the midway point of the schedule. All eight teams remaining in the competition go into their next matches knowing that destiny is still in their control as they hunt for one of the spots in September’s semi-finals. The eventual winner of the competition will represent the continent in December’s FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco.

Match of the week
CS Sfaxien – Esperance de Tunis
Although Esperance went into the competition as one of the pre-tournament favourites, the Blood and Gold have found the going much tougher than they would have liked and after three games they find themselves in the unusual position of propping up Group B from the rear with just three points. However, those points were secured in their last outing against local rivals Sfaxien, who won the Tunisian league last year ahead of the two-time African champions. On just four points themselves, Sfaxien have a new coach in Philippe Troussier, and the ‘White Witchdoctor’ will be eager to start his tenure with a victory. His Esperance counterpart Sebastien Desabre though believes that they will be able to get a result on the road. “We got the better of them three times last season,” Desabre said. “It is an important match and we need three points.” Esperance have signed several new players and Desabre says he has been particularly encouraged by the performance of new arrival from Club Africain Mohamed Ali Yacoubi.

Other matches
The other Group B game sees Algerian table-toppers ES Setif – on five points – travel to Tunisia for their match against Al Ahly Benghazi, who have to play their home games outside of Libya due to the security situation in their country. Setif coach Kheireddine Madoui said they are looking to seize control of the group. “We worked very hard to prepare for the game, which undoubtedly be very difficult,” Madoui commented. “But we know that a victory will open the door to the semi-final and we will work very hard to ensure that.” Al Ahly, who are on four points, have Slovakian coach Jozef Vukusic in charge for the first time and have also signed several new players, including Bosnia and Herzegovina duo Danijel Mjkic and Marko Perisic, as well as Tawamba Kana from Cameroon.

DR Congo club TP Mazembe, who lead Group A with six points, face a tough trip to Zamalek, who are on three points. Mazembe have re-signed former Anderlecht midfielder Mbenza Bedi, and the 29-year-old has made it clear he is looking for major success. “Our ambition is to take the Cup,” Bedi said. “It will not be easy, but it is possible.” Zamalek, in turn, will go into the game filled with confidence after winning the Egyptian Cup last week with a victory against Smouha, giving former international Mido his first trophy as a coach. It also persuaded him to withdraw his resignation, which he handed in after the White Knights lost the league championship race in their final game.

The other club from the DR Congo in the group, Vita Club, are at home to Sudanese team Al Hilal. Both have four points and could well move to the top of the table with a victory if Mazembe fail to pick up maximum points in Egypt. Vita coach Florent Ibenge is in line to take over as DR Congo coach and will be in charge of the Leopards during their next two friendly matches. A good showing in the Champions League will certainly not do his chances of landing the job full-time any harm.

Player to watch
CS Sfaxien coach Philippe Troussier is considered a strict disciplinarian, and the Frenchman was quick to stamp his authority on the team after taking over the Sfax-based club, sending Gabonese international starlet Didier Ndong away from the squad to train on his own for a week. The 20-year-old midfielder has already become an important player for the club, and he is now hoping that Troussier will give him a chance to fully redeem himself by putting in a strong performance against Esperance.

The stat
5 – The number of times that Egyptian club Zamalek have played against four-time champions TP Mazembe. The record is slanted towards the DR Congolese side, with Mazembe having won three times, while one match ending in a draw. Five-time champions Zamalek recorded their only victory in 2002, when the White Knights won 2-0 at home in the semi-finals and went on to win the competition.

What they said
“It feels great to continue the mission we started in the Champions League campaign with the same club. We are taking every game as it comes.” Al Ahly’s Zimbabwean international striker Edward Sadomba, who has just signed a short-term contract extension with the club.

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