Johannesburg (AFP) – Simba of Tanzania and Constantine of Algeria, who boast the best attack and defence in the CAF Champions League, face serious matchday 2 examinations of their title credentials this weekend.
After scoring 15 goals in four qualifiers and matchday 1, Simba are away to V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa, an intimidating African football cauldron.
Constantine, who have not conceded a goal in their five qualifying and group outings, also face Congolese opposition, hosting five-time champions TP Mazembe.
Rwandan Meddie Kagere (five), Zambian Clatous Chama (four) and Tanzanian John Bocco (three) have led the Simba goal charge while goalkeeper Chamseddine Rahmani stars for Constantine.
AFP Sport previews the eight matchday 2 fixtures this Friday and Saturday in a competition won last season by Esperance of Tunisia, who celebrated their 100th birthday this week.
The Pretoria fixture between Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco pits the 2016 and 2017 champions against each other.
While Wydad banged five matchday 1 goals past ASEC Mimosas of the Ivory Coast at home, Sundowns lacked fighting spirit in Nigeria as they went down 2-1 against Lobi Stars.
This is the third consecutive season in which Sundowns and Wydad meet with the Moroccans having won two, drawn one and lost one of the previous four matches.
ASEC, whose defence was torn apart in Rabat after not conceding a goal in four qualifiers, have home advantage over Lobi and need maximum points to get back into the chase.
Esperance would have wanted a more appropriate setting for a Champions League fixture after turning 100 than hosting Zimbabweans FC Platinum behind closed doors in Tunis.
The three-time African champions must play two matches without supporters after being punished for crowd trouble during the semi-finals and final last season.
Lucky to snatch an away draw at Horoya of Guinea last weekend through an Anice Badri goal in stoppage time, Esperance will expect to collect maximum against group newcomers Platinum.
With the Tunisians favoured to win the group, the matches between Orlando Pirates of South Africa and Horoya could decide who comes second, with the first clash in Soweto Friday.
Even without injured star striker Ben Malango, Mazembe represent a major threat to a Constantine defence that has gone 450 minutes without conceding a Champions League goal.
Elia Meschak, Kevin Mondeko, Jackson Muleka and Chico Ushindi scored for the Congolese in three CAF outings, emphasising the multi-player threat when it comes to goals.
Mazembe must do without Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo, sent off in a home win over Ismaily of Egypt, and Aime Baluka is expected to deputise.
Matchday 1 losers Ismaily and Club Africain of Tunisia square up in a match in Egypt neither dare lose if they hope to achieve a top-two finish and reach the quarter-finals.
Record eight-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt will look to on-loan Ramadan Sobhi for goals away to struggling JS Saoura as they aim to improve on a mediocre record in Algeria.
The Cairo Red Devils have lost five of 10 CAF matches there with the most recent reverse being against Entente Setif in a 2018 Champions League semi-final second leg.
Sobhi is on loan from English Premier League bottom club Huddersfield Town and the availability of Nigerian Junior Ajayi after a lengthy injury absence is another boost.
Trouncing Saoura 3-0 in Dar es Salaam got Simba off to a great start in their first group appearance since 2003, but V Club are likely to provide much tougher opposition.
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