Dutch star Ruud Krol (Photo: Reuters)
Tunisian club CS Sfaxien will secure a CAF Confederation Cup semi-finals place by defeating Ethiopian visitors Saint George in matchday 4 this weekend.
Even a draw will suffice to take the two-time winners of the second-tier competition through unless Stade Malien of Mali win in Tunisia against Etoile Sahel.
Given the Group A form of Stade that is unlikely as the Bamako outfit were held at home by Etoile, and that is the only point they have collected.
Sfaxien have improved dramatically since the arrival of former Dutch star Ruud Krol last year, winning the national league and finishing runners-up in the Cup.
Now the 64-year-old who transformed South African side Orlando Pirates from domestic underachievers to triple title winners has his sights on African glory.
A 1974 and 1978 World Cup silver medalist with Johan Cruyff-inspired Netherlands, Krol attributes the success of his young squad to "Dutch style" football.
"The players struggled to adapt in the beginning, but once it bore fruit there was no stopping them," explained a coach who preaches teamwork over individualism.
"We even got a standing ovation after one away game -- that is rare in a league where supporters are extremely partisan," Krol told reporters.
Although reluctant to single out players, Krol raves about 20-year-old Gabonese midfielder Ibrahima Ndong, a sparkling addition to his collection of Tunisian gems.
Sfaxien play Saint George at Stade El-Menzah in Tunis, which is 240 kilometres north of their home in Mediterranean industrial city Sfax.
A Sfax pitch labelled a "sand pit" by Krol is being renovated, and the match will be staged behind closed doors over post-Arab Spring security concerns.
Sfaxien are hot favourites to collect maximum points despite the absence of suspended Ivorian striker Idrissa Kouyate, who has scored in each group game.
After a home win over Etoile, they overcame Stade and the Saints away, with the 3-1 win 2,300 metres (7,550 feet) above sea level in Addis Ababa particularly impressive.
Goals from Kouyate, captain Ali Maaloul and Maher Hannachi within 30 minutes of the kick-off stunned the Ethiopians and confirmed Sfaxien as serious title contenders.
Democratic Republic of Congo outfit TP Mazembe were among the CAF Champions League favourites this year only to be eliminated by Orlando Pirates.
Demoted to the Confederation Cup, Mazembe instantly became the team to beat, but the club from Congolese mining hub Lubumbashi have found the going in Group B challenging.
After a draw at Entente Setif of Algeria and a home win over FUS Rabat of Morocco, Mazembe came unstuck at CA Bizertin of Tunisia, losing to a late Yassine Salhi goal.
"Bizertin are a team of solid defenders and quick attackers," said France-born Mazembe coach Patrice Carteron, who led Mali to third place at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
"Although not the most famous club in the Cup this year, Bizertin seem the most dangerous. A great team is coming to Lubumbashi this weekend."
Setif host FUS and a home victory will avenge a 1-0 loss in Morocco two weeks ago and lift the Algerians back into contention for a top-two finish and a semi-finals place.
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