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Saturday, 16 January 2021

Song a star attraction as CAF Confederation Cup kicks off

AFP , Tuesday 24 Nov 2020
Alex Song
Cameroonian Alex Song (L) playing for West Ham against Wolves in a 2016 FA Cup tie (AFP)
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The 2021 CAF Confederation Cup kicks off this week with 19 preliminary round first legs and former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Alex Song is a probable participant.

Cameroonian Song recently joined Djibouti outfit Arta Solar 7, who host three-time Confederation of African Football (CAF) title winners Al Mokawloon Al Arab (formerly Arab Contractors).

Arta rank among the minnows of African football and, despite the presence of 33-year-old Song, are given virtually no chance over two legs of eliminating the Cairo club.

Here, AFP Sport presents a guide to the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League that was won last season for the first time by Moroccan side Renaissance Berkane.

Qualifying

The 12 highest ranked countries are permitted two representatives and they ordinarily choose the club that finished third in the national league and the FA Cup winners.

Nations who can enter only one team usually choose either the league runners-up or the FA Cup winners, with some clubs reluctant to take part because of prohibitive travel costs.

Because of the Libyan civil war, two seasons have passed there without competitions so Tripoli clubs Al Ahly and Al Ittihad, the third-placed league finishers and FA Cup winners in 2018, are taking part.

Long journey

It takes 15 or 17 matches, depending on whether a club starts in the preliminary or first round, spread over eight or nine months to lift the Confederation Cup trophy.

After the first round, the 16 survivors face the CAF Champions League last-32 losers in two-leg playoffs and the overall winners secure places in the group stage, where the prize money kicks in.

Each club plays six mini-league matches followed by home-and-away quarter-finals and semi-finals before a single-match final with all 54 CAF members eligible to bid for the right to host the title decider.

Favourites

Four former African champions -- Entente Setif and JS Kabylie of Algeria, Etoile Sahel of Tunisia and Orlando Pirates of South Africa -- have entered and all of them appear capable of going far.

There are also three former winners of other CAF competitions among the 51 entrants: title-holders Berkane, Al Mokawloon, and Daring Club Motema Pembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Expensively assembled Egyptian outfit Pyramids were runners-up last season to Berkane, who had the advantage of playing the final in Morocco, and they could go all the way this time.

Title winners

While the Confederation Cup is officially the secondary African club competition, the list of winners reads like a who's who of club football in the continent.

Former title-holders include Al Ahly and Zamalek of Egypt and TP Mazembe of DR Congo, the three most successful clubs in CAF competitions.

Etoile Sahel, Hearts of Oak of Ghana and Raja Casablanca of Morocco are other big-name winners while CS Sfaxien of Tunisia hold the record with three titles.

Prize money

Clubs prefer to qualify for the Champions League for two main reasons -- the trophy can be won by playing up to four fewer matches than in the Confederation Cup and the prize money is much greater.

Champion League winners pocket $2.5 million (2.1 mn euros) while Confederation Cup title-holders have to settle for $1.25 mn.

The runners-up receive $625,000, semi-finalists 450,000 each, quarter-finalists 350,000 each, and third and fourth in the groups 275,000 each.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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