Johannesburg (AFP) – Title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa are among eight winners of the CAF Champions League who will compete in the premier African club competition next season.
The draws for the 2017 preliminary and first rounds are scheduled to be made in Cairo Wednesday, officials from several national football associations told AFP.
Only Al Ahly of Egypt, TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Enyimba of Nigeria have staged successful defences since the 1964 launch of the Champions League.
Ahly (2005-2006 and 2012-2013) and Mazembe (1967-1968 and 2009-2010) twice won back-to-back titles.
Enyimba, the only Nigerian outfit to conquer the continent in the premier club competition, triumphed in 2003 and 2004.
A further eight defending champions reached successive finals, but had to settle for runners-up prizes.
Record eight-time title-holders Ahly, fellow Egyptian side Zamalek and Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia are among the teams who will challenge Sundowns, the second African champions from South Africa after Orlando Pirates.
Mazembe and V Club of DR Congo and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco complete the list of former winners who have confirmed their participation.
Five-time champions Zamalek were losing finalists this year, going down 3-1 on aggregate to Sundowns, and Wydad reached the semi-finals.
The other losing 2016 semi-finalists, ZESCO United of Zambia, failed to qualify and compete in the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup instead.
Other confirmed entrants include three former Confederation Cup title-holders — AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville, FUS Rabat of Morocco and Stade Malien of Mali.
Three winners of the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup, Al Merrikh of Sudan, Enugu Rangers of Nigeria and Horoya of Guinea, are also in the line-up.
Sundowns flopped at the FIFA Club World Cup this month, finishing sixth of seven clubs afer losses to Kashima Antlers of Japan and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea.
But the Pretoria outfit scored financially, pocketing $1 million after two matches in Japan. They played 14 matches to conquer Africa and collect $1.5 million.
A huge incentive for Sundowns and the rest of the 2017 field is increased financial rewards in a new format with first prize increasing by 66.6 percent to $2.5 million.
The runners-up will receive $1.25 million, semi-finalists $875,000, quarter-finalists $650,000 and the eight group qualifiers who fail to make the knockout stage $550,000 each.
CAF have cut the two-leg qualifying phase from three rounds to two and doubled the number of qualifiers for the mini-leagues from eight to 16.
Clubs eliminated at the last-32 stage of qualifying get a second shot at African glory by dropping to the Confederation Cup, which star-studded Mazembe won this season.
The precise number of 2017 entrants is unknown with CAF giving no pre-draw information, not even confirming the date for a secretive event held behind closed doors.
After some previous qualifying rounds draws, there has been an unexplained delay of several days before they are released.
While the 54 member states and associates Reunion and Zanzibar are eligible to enter one or two clubs, depending on previous results, financial constraints prevent some doing so.
Officials from Libyan outfit Al Ahly Tripoli say they will be in the draw, despite the likelihood of being unable to host Champions League matches for a second successive season.
While football is being staged in the North African state, CAF consider post Moamer Kadhafi era conflict in the country too dangerous to host international fixtures.
Among the footballers most looking forward to the draw will be those from Ferroviario Beira of Mozambique, a club formed 92 years ago and set to make their Champions League debut.
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