Johannesburg (AFP) – Al Ahly of Egypt aim to seal a record-equalling 16th appearance in the CAF Champions League group stage this weekend when they defend a 2-0 lead over Jimma Aba Jifar in Ethiopia.
The round-of-30 second leg is among 15 scheduled for Saturday and Sunday with the overall winners plus defending champions Esperance of Tunisia qualifying for the group stage.
Ahly lost the last two Champions League finals, with the defeat by Esperance a month ago leading to French coach Patrice Carteron being replaced by Uruguayan Martin Lasarte, who will not be in charge this Sunday.
AFP Sport puts the spotlight of Ahly and four other former champions as the struggle intensifies for mini-league places and a minimum $550,000 (480,000 euros) in prize money.
Club Africain of Tunisia are away to Al Hilal of Sudan with a 3-1 lead thanks to a last-gasp goal from Oussama Darragi.
The Tunis outfit, overshadowed on the domestic and international fronts by neighbours Esperance for decades, hope to end a run of five failures to reach the group phase.
Hilal, who led in the first leg before collapsing, have been erratic in recent Champions League campaigns, reaching the 2015 semi-finals but also making two pre-group exits.
Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa have gone from champions, to quarter-finalists, to being eliminated at the group stage in the last three Champions League seasons.
Having drawn 0-0 away to Al Ahly Benghazi of Libya, the Pretoria club are confident they can halt the downward spiral and secure group qualification for a fourth straight season.
“I was happy with the first-leg performance, but not the result,” said coach Pitso Mosimane. “I think we can do much better at home, especially in the final third of the pitch.”
Lasarte will leave caretaker and 2013 Champions League-winning coach Mohamed Youssef in charge against Jimma in Addis Ababa before taking over next week.
Ethiopian clubs occasionally shock those from Egypt, who have an unrivalled record in CAF competitions, and Jimma will have studied how Esperance trounced Ahly 3-0 last month.
Youssef says “it is going to be a tough game”, but Ahly should clear the obstacle in pursuit of a record-extending ninth Champions League title.
Of the 10 former champions in the 2018/2019 field, 1995 trophy-holders Orlando Pirates of South Africa are probably in gravest danger of being eliminated this weekend.
The Soweto Buccaneers were held 0-0 at home by African Stars from Namibia, a country with a mediocre record in African club competitions.
Pirates’ Serb coach Milutin Sredojevic is concerned that “the ball will roll and bounce differently” on the artificial pitch in Windhoek where they return match will be played.
TP Mazembe, who are based in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo city of Lubumbashi, have won the Champions League five times, a record bettered only by Ahly.
But a 1-0 home win over Zesco United of Zambia through an early Jackson Muleka goal will worry the Congolese given recent failures to get past the qualifying stage.
Mazembe missed out on the group phase in 2016 and 2017 and need to score in Zambian city Ndola before under-pressure coach Pamphile Mihayo can relax.
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