This year’s edition of the African Champions League will certainly be very exciting with so many big teams eying the big prize.
But before getting to the group stage, there is some unfinished business. Zamalek’s second leg with Generation Foot of Senegal will now be played on 24 October despite the CAF announcing Zamalek the winners when Generation Foot failed to show up on the actual date of the second leg.
Generation Foot, which won the first leg 2-1 at home, said they were not informed about the date and venue of the game 10 days prior to the match as the rules indicate so they appealed the decision which announced Egypt’s Zamalek the winners. CAF accepted the appeal and decided that a second leg will be played.
If Zamalek manage to get past the Senegalese team they’ll face a very tough task to qualify for the quarter-finals after being paired with two of the favorites to win the completion this year. TP Mazembe of DR Congo has been one of the best African teams in the last decade and will surely be having an eye on the prize which was confirmed by their sporting director Frederic Kitenge. “Our only target is the title and we already know Zesco and Primero de Agosto really well as we met them before. Same for Zamalek if they qualify. The last time we played against them in Cairo we won,” Kitenge said.
Zesco of Zambia is the other team considered one of the favorites while Angola’s Primero de Agosto is relatively weaker than the other two. In all cases it’s pretty obvious that Zamalek will have to do it the hard way if they want to go all the way and win the competition.
Zamalek’s football director Amir Mortada Mansour is aware of the difficulty of the task ahead of them but has faith in his team. “In football there are no big or small teams and all four groups are very tough and we respect all the teams taking part in the competition this year. I’m sure we’ll get past Generation Foot and qualify for the group stages and our experience will play a pivotal role in that.”
Ahly’s group includes one of Africa’s best teams in the form of Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel as well as two strong teams in Al-Hilal of Sudan and FC Platinum of Zimbabwe. If things go according to plan we should see the two Arab teams qualifying for the quarter-finals with Egypt’s Ahly topping the group given their current explosive form under their new manager, Swiss Rene Weiler, who’s doing a great job so far.
Ahly’s football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz made it clear that they eye the top prize and that they’ll make sure they do everything to win it this year. “All the groups are tough and all 16 teams deserve their places in the competition. As for our group we know Etoile du Sahel and Al-Hilal very well as we met them several times before but even FC Platinum showed last year they’re a very strong team. The group is balanced and all four teams have a chance to qualify. We still have enough time to study our opponents but I can assure the fans that our target is the title and nothing else,” Abdel-Hafiz said.
Hassan Issa, general secretary of Al-Hilal, is well aware of the task facing his team but also assured his fans that they want the title, not just qualification from the group stages. “Our group is extremely tough but if you want to win the competition then you have to beat the best. We all know how strong Ahly and Etoile du Sahel are but also Platinum FC is an emerging force which makes it more difficult. But we’ll be ready for all three teams and we do believe in our chances very much,” Issa said.
From Group C, Sundowns of South Africa and Wydad Casablanca from Morocco will be the favorites to qualify with Sundowns one of the favorites to win the competition.
From Group D, all four teams have an equal chance of qualifying with Morocco’s Raja Casablanca and Vita Club of Congo having a slight edge.
Moving to the second tier continental competition, the Confederations Cup, Pyramids FC of Egypt will face Tanzanian giants Young Africans hoping to beat them and qualify for the group stages and then go all the way to win the competition. The club’s sporting director, Ahly’s former legendary player Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Shafi, seemed a bit cautious and avoided putting pressure on his team when he spoke about his team’s chances of lifting the trophy. “We respect Young Africans a lot and they’re obviously a team with a great history. In Africa, there is no small or big teams and we’ll take our campaign game by game hoping to go as far as we can in the competition,” Abdel-Shafi said.
Also in the Confederations Cup, Masri will face a relatively easier opponent in the form of Seychelles’ Cote d’Or. The Egyptian team should pass this test with ease. However, Masri’s sporting director made it clear they won’t take Cote d’Or lightly. “We don’t look at the past and facing Cote d’Or won’t be easy as people may think. Football is only about what you give on the pitch, not the past results and so we’ll surely take them seriously. We won’t underestimate any team we’ll face.”
Below are the four groups:
Group A: Primero de Agosto (Angola), TP Mazembe (DR Congo), Zamalek (Egypt)/Generation Foot (Senegal), ZESCO United (Zambia)
Group B: Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia), Al-Hilal (Sudan), FC Platinum (Zimbabwe), Ahly (Egypt)
Group C: USM Alger (Algeria), Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa), Petro Luanda (Angola), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco)
Group D: Raja Casablanca (Morocco), JS Kabylie (Algeria), AS Vita Club (DR Congo), Esperance Sportive de Tunis (Tunisia)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.