African Champions Setif of Algeria (Photo: Reuters)
CAF Champions League co-title favourites Entente Setif and TP Mazembe desperately need away points this weekend after bad starts to the group stage.
Defending champions Setif lost 2-1 at home against fellow Algerians USM Alger two weeks ago while Congolese Mazembe were held 0-0 by Sudanese visitors El Hilal.
Setif took 84 minutes to score a consolation goal and a couple of great saves from veteran Robert Kidiaba in the closing stages prevented Mazembe losing.
If playing away is not sufficiently challenging, Setif and Mazembe meet rivals who made losing starts and are equally desperate for points.
On Saturday, Setif face Mouloudia El Eulma, the third Algerian club in Group B, which is completed by Sudanese outfit El Merreikh.
Mazembe travel from the heart of central Africa to Morocco in the north west corner for a Sunday night Group A date with Moghreb Tetouan.
USM and Merreikh get the ball rolling Friday in Algiers and Hilal host Egyptians Smouha Sunday in other match-ups.
Kheireddine Madoui, who changed his mind about quitting as Setif coach after earlier complaining of fatigue, is upbeat before facing Eulma, who were relegated to the Algerian second division in mid-year.
"Nothing is lost -- there are still 15 points at stake," said the 38-year-old who last year became the youngest CAF Champions League-winning coach.
"We paid dearly for a couple of mistakes against USM and must redeem ourselves with a victory at Eulma.
"One should not dramatise the situation. A matchday 1 loss does not mean we have been eliminated from the Champions League."
Setif have lost a number of stars from the squad that conquered Africa last year by edging Congolese V Club on away goals after both legs of the final were drawn.
Midfielder Akram Djahnit, a 2014 CAF Africa-based Footballer of the Year finalist, is the latest departure for the more lucrative Middle East region, joining Kuwaiti side Al Arabi.
Mazembe, a mix of Congolese, Ghanaian, Malian, Tanzanian and Zambian stars, did not look like potential champions against well-drilled Hilal and created few clearcut scoring chances.
Coach Patrice Carteron is under pressure and Serb Zlatko Krmpotic has been hired to assist the Frenchman.
"We lacked concentration against Hilal," admitted former Mali handler Carteron, "and failed to do the simple things correctly.
"All of us, players and coaches, have to accept responsibility for that result and now we must collect away points to win the group."
Tetouan, hoping to become the first African champions from Morocco since Raja Casablanca in 1999, surrendered a two-goal lead to fail 3-2 at Smouha.
And they have lost the leading 2015 Champions League scorer, six-goal Mouhcine Iajour, to a Qatari club in another Middle East raid into North Africa.
Coach-less USM are poised to sign Belgian George Leekens, who quit as Tunisia boss recently over an unpaid 2015 Africa Cup of Nations bonus.
The Algerians will be favoured to win the top-of-the-table showdown with Merreikh, who consistently fail to replicate home form when playing outside Sudan.
Twice Champions League runners-up, Hilal want to follow up the unexpected away draw against Mazembe by defeating group debutants Smouha.
It is a realistic goal for the Omdurman outfit given that the Alexandria club lost all three away qualifiers en route to the mini-league stage.
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