Thursday, July 19, 2007

Madiba's Birthday and African Champions League

The stars of football past & present congregated in Cape Town Wednesday to mark statesman Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday. A celebrity World XI drew 3-3 with an equally high-profile African squad at the Newlands Stadium, with players’ ages ranging from the mid-20s to almost 50.

The stars traveled from all over the world to display their creaky but technically enviable skills in a match to celebrate the life of Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and Nobel peace prize laureate.

The match theme was “Say No to Racism”, key among Mandela’s causes, as the African team wore white and their opponents black.

To read more about this match and see who played (among the participants were Pele, Samuel Eto'o, Ruud Gullit and Ivan Zamorano), please read the South African Times article here.

The African Champions League gets underway again tomorrow and holders Al Ahly of Egypt, the strongest team of the tournament and favorite to win, look to creep ever closer to a semifinal berth.

The Egyptians giants, who are chasing an unprecedented third successive Champions League title, host Tunisia's Esperance in Cairo and are hoping to take advantage of a club in crisis.

Ahly's opponents begin their third match of the league phase with a third successive coach, Arbi Zouaoui, brought in after the surprise departure of Fawzi Benzarti last week.

Benzarti had himself been appointed only two weeks earlier when Frenchman Jackie Duguperoux got off to a slow start in the Group B campaign last month and was promptly dismissed.

Esperance have also suspended their captain and veteran defender Moyin Chaabani for disciplinary reasons.

Ahly go into the game with two wins and, if they maintain their 100 percent record, they will take themselves to within touching distance of the semi-finals.

The top two teams in the two groups advance to the semis - Al Hilal of Sudan host Asec Mimosas in the group's other game on July 22.

The Sudanese looked convincing in a 2-0 win over Esperance two weeks ago while Asec lost their last game at home to Ahly and have just a single point.

Another defeat could end any realistic hopes for the Ivory Coast champions.

In Group A, Morocco's FAR Rabat desperately need a win against Al Ittihad of Libya to stand any chance of progress after losing their opening two matches.

"The losses have complicated our chances and handed us an arduous mission, so we have no alterative but to win," declared coach Mustapha Madih.

Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia host JS Kabylie in Sousse, also July 21, with a chance to take control of the group.

The Tunisians have been runners-up in two of the last three editions of the Champions League but never won Africa's top club prize.

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