Thursday, April 5, 2007

African Champions League

This weekend brings the return of the Champions League to Africa's shores.
No, not the popular version played this week in Europe. The continental version, complete with powerhouse teams and Cinderella stories.
Here's a recap.

The first intriguing match up sees holders Al Ahly visiting Mamelodi Sundowns in Pretoria, South Africa on Saturday. Al Ahly are 5-time winners of the competition and are facing a red-hot Sundowns squad.
The “reds” have a daunting task with a trip to the Loftus Stadium as guests of the “Brazilians” of South African football in their quest for a place in the last eight.

Coach Manuel Jose said the Egyptian club had no plans to go on the defensive against the South African hosts who have won their last 10 league matches.

"It might sound arrogant but it is our philosophy to play the same way away from home as we do at home and that is to try and win every game we play," said the Portuguese, who has led Al Ahly to three Champions League victories, including the last two tournaments.
"We accept it is going to be very tough to qualify," he added.

Al Ahly are among seven past winners of the continent's top club prize who compete in the third round this weekend.

ASEC Abidjan of the Ivory Coast and Wydad Casablanca are set for a similar heavyweight battle in their meeting in Abidjan on Sunday. Both former winners go into the game on the back of strong domestic form.

TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Morocco's Royal Armed Forces are also two ex-continental champions pitted against each other in the first leg in Kinshasa on Sunday.

Mazembe are being forced to play in the capital because of a ban imposed last year by the Confederation of African Football on their home ground in Lubumbashi, where opposing teams have often been attacked by home fans and where the field is barely grassed.

Mazembe's move to Kinshasa leaves them with little fan support and the club are admitting spectators to the Martyrs stadium on Sunday in a bid to gain some public backing during their game against the soldiers.

Tunisia's Esperance host Young Africans of Tanzania in Tunis on Friday while JS Kabylie of Algeria are away in Garoua against Cameroon's Coton Sport on Sunday.

Here's a list of all the games. Try to check them out. You'll be surprised at the quality of the football.

Friday, April 6:
In Tunis: Esperance (Tunisia) v Young Africans (Tanzania)
Saturday, April 7:
In Johannesburg: Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) v Al Ahli (Egypt)
Sunday, April 8:
In Abidjan: ASEC Abidjan (Ivory Coast) v Wydad Casablanca (Morocco)
In Brazzaville: Etoile du Congo (Congo) v Al Ittihad (Libya)
In Garoua: Coton Sport (Cameroon) v JS Kabylie (Algeria)
In Kinshasa: TP Mazembe Englebert (DR Congo) v Royal Armed Forces (Morocco)
In Lafia: Nasarawa United (Nigeria) v Al Hilal (Sudan)
In Wome: Maranatha Fiokpo (Togo) v Etoile Sahel (Tunisia)
The return legs will be played on the weekend of April 20-22.

Also this weekend we see the return of the African Confederations Cup. The Cup is the merging of the African Cup Winners' Cup and the CAF Cup with the national Cup winner for each country automatically qualifying.

The 12 countries with the best results in the club competitions in the previous five years are also allowed to enter a second team, normally the third-placed finisher in the national league championship. (The league runner-up qualifies for the more lucrative Champions League).

Both competitions, the Champions League and the Confederation Cup, start with a maximum of 64 teams. The eight teams who are knocked out from the Last 16 stage of the Champions League are then integrated into the Confederation Cup and play, in a direct elimination round after a drawing, against the last eight in the Confederation Cup. The eight remaining teams are then divided into two groups of four with the group winners going directly to the final.

It's sort of like the UEFA Cup of Africa, similar in rules and prestige.
Here's the fixture list for this weekend's 3rd round, first-leg ties:

Friday, April 6:
In Kigali: Atraco (Rwanda) v EGS Gafsa (Tunisia)
Saturday, April 7:
In Abidjan: Issia Wazi (Ivory Coast) v CS Sfaxien (Tunisia)
In Luanda: Benfica Luanda (Angola) v Astres Douala (Cameroon)
In Ouagadougou: Etoile Filante (Burkina Faso) v Mwana Africa (Zimbabwe)
Sunday, April 8:
In Chlef: ASO Chlef (Algeria) v Al Merreikh (Sudan)
In Douala: Union Douala (Cameroon) v Kwara United (Nigeria)
In Ismailia: Ismaili (Egypt) v Green Buffaloes (Zambia)
In Port Harcourt: Dolphin FC (Nigeria) v Hassania Agadir (Morocco)
The return legs will be played on the weekend of April 16-18.

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