Top fixtures lined up in CAF Champs League
Saturday, February 13th, 2021
Coach Gavin Hunt must have hoped South African strugglers Kaizer Chiefs could have a gentler introduction to the CAF Champions League group stage than facing Wydad Casablanca in Morocco on Saturday.
In the past five seasons, Wydad have won the marquee African club competition and also been runners-up once, semi-finalists twice and quarter-finalists once.
Under vastly experienced local Hunt, the most decorated club in South Africa have won only five of 19 matches in domestic competitions this season and scored less than a goal per game.
Chiefs have reserved their best performances for journeys into Africa, defeating PWD Bamenda in Cameroon and 2018 semi-finalists Primeiro Agosto in Angola to reach the group stage for the first time.
Here, AFP Sport looks at the seven matchday one fixtures on Friday and Saturday, with defending champions Al Ahly of Egypt beginning their Group A schedule only on Tuesday due to FIFA Club World Cup commitments.
Simba of Tanzania will play V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa with an understandable degree of trepidation having suffered a 5-0 hiding there when the clubs clashed two years ago.
V Club comfortably disposed of Young Buffaloes from eSwatini in their only two-leg qualifier while Simba upset Plateau United of Nigeria, then buried Platinum of Zimbabwe under a late second-leg goal rush.
Assuming they suffer no after-effects from three Club World Cup matches in eight days, Ahly should be too strong for Sudanese visitors Al Merrikh, provided they shackle five-goal Seifeldin Malik.
CR Belouizdad boast the most impressive qualifying record this season among the 16 title contenders with four wins, a 12-1 goal tally and a midfielder with a fondness for goals in Amir Sayoud.
But after home and away victories over Al Nasr of Libya and Gor Mahia of Kenya comes a much tougher test against five-time champions TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Lubumbashi.
After five straight CAF campaigns under coach Pitso Mosimane, who joined Al Ahly last September, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa host Al Hilal of Sudan with Manqoba Mngqithi and Rhulani Mokoena at the helm.
Wydad can call on forward Ayoub el Kaabi, who last weekend captained Morocco to a second successive African Nations Championship title when they overcame Mali 2-0 in the final.
Yahya Jabrane was another starter in Cameroon from Wydad and fellow midfielder Walid el Karti came off the bench to swell the representation from the club who conquered Africa in 2017.
The Moroccans will be favourites against Chiefs and the biggest challenge is likely to come from Horoya of Guinea, whose star midfielder Morlaye Sylla could play a key role in defeating Angolan visitors Petro Atletico.
Little-known Senegalese outfit Teungueth are in a similar situation to Kaizer Chiefs -- debuting in the group stage away to powerful north African opponents.
Teungueth face four-time champions Esperance of Tunisia having caused the shock of the two qualifying rounds by eliminating Raja Casablanca of Morocco in a penalty shootout after two goalless draws. -AFP