Entente Sportive de Setif of Algeria celebrate with the trophy after winning the African Champions League final soccer match against AS Vita Club of Democratic Republic of the Congo, at Mustapha Tchaker stadium in Blida November 1, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Algeria will set a new benchmark for African football this week when three of their clubs compete in the eight-team group phase of the African Champions League, representing a further fillip for the game in the north African country.
It is the first time three clubs from the same country have reached this stage of the continent's top club competition, from which four teams proceed to the semi-finals.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) allow two entrants each in the Champions League for the top 12 performing countries, determined by a co-efficient of results over the five preceding years.
The rest of CAF's 56 members and associate members enter one club.
After Entente Setif won last year’s Champions League title but were outside the top two places in the domestic league, however, Algeria had the rare opportunity of a third entry and all three clubs came through the preliminary rounds.
The clubs – Entente Setif, USM Alger and MC El Eulma – have all been drawn in Group B along with Al Merreikh of Sudan.
TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo are favourites in Group A, which also includes Al Hilal of Sudan, Smouha of Egypt and the Moroccan club Moghreb Tetouan.
MC El Eulma, who have since been relegated from the Algerian top flight, start away in Sudan on Friday with Entente Setif hosting USM Alger on Saturday in what is expected to be a tempestuous derby.
USM Alger have yet to appoint a replacement after firing German coach Otto Pfister last month, leaving a trio of former assistants in charge.
Entente Setif won back their domestic league title in May despite a lengthy season in which they played a total of 49 matches in all competitions.
Their coach Kherredine Madoui quit at the end of the season citing fatigue but has been been persuaded to return.
The advance of the Algerian trio to the business end of the continent's top club competition adds to the buoyant feeling left by the performance of the national team at last year's World Cup.
Algeria reached the second round for the first time and took eventual winners Germany to extra time in their knockout round match in Brazil.
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