African minnows attempt to be in the hunt

Smouha, SM Sanga Balende and MC El Eulma are clubs that few football fans beyond Africa might have been aware of, though the three teams are only two games away from the place inside the group stages with the CAF Champions League. A place amongst the last eight of the show-piece event of African club football may also wear them the path towards escaping the shadows of some bigger clubs off their countries.

Egyptian presence within the Champions League considering that the introduction of the group phase has long been dominated by Cairo giants Al Ahly and Zamalek, who between them have not only won your competition 13 times, they’ve been virtually omnipresent since 1997. Al Ahly have represented their country 17 times inside the Champions League, while Zamalek look back at 10 appearances. Really the only other club to get a try were Ismaily SC, who taken part in 2003 and 2010. Record-holders Al Ahly, that have eight titles, are again one of Egypt’s representatives and face Moroccan club Moghreb Tetouan for a put in place the group phase. They’re joined, surprisingly, by Smouha, who no time before competed inside competition and still have only spent 5 years within the Egyptian top flight.

The Alexandra-based team are coached by former Zamalek player Helmy Toulan, who may have had several stints coaching the White Knights. Toulan, who have been responsible for various Egyptian youth teams, saw his side oust Libyan club Al Ahli in the penalty shoot-out in the preliminary round. Then they needed two late goals against Nigeria’s Enyimba to overturn single-0 defeat from the first leg. They face a troublesome opponent in Congolese club AC Leopards, who won the CAF Confederations Cup in 2012 and advanced towards the group phase with the Champions League a year later – coming close to dealing with towards the semi-finals.

Although Congo DR have had five different clubs representing them within the Champions League since 1997, there has always been a dominance of TP Mazembe (12 appearances), Vita Club (6) and Motema Pembe (8). Four time-winners Mazembe are again in the mix and can fancy to pass through to the group phase with the expense of Mali’s Stade Malien. Mazembe have a number of Malian players within their side and arrived at Bamako nearly weekly prior to a game. “It’s going to be an incredibly difficult game against a Stade Malien team that rarely loses at your home. Were to put an effect to be sure qualification,” captain Joel Kimwaki said.

Sanga Balende back in the fray
Looking to escape the shadow on the three dominant Congo DR clubs are SM Sanga Balende, who hail in the third-largest city in the country, Mbuji-Mavi. They needed the away-goal rule to advance against Angolan club Recreativo do Libolo inside preliminary round, but then had fewer problems overcoming Coton Sport on the Cameroon. They now face Sudanese club Al Hilal in the second round. Sanga Balende competed inside the competition before the introduction in the group phase and before countries were allowed several representative, however last participation in 1984 resulted in disappointment, once they walked off the field during their second round match against FC 105 Libreville in protest from the officiating.

The next team planning to make inroads into your traditional dominance of three clubs are Champions League rookies MC El Eulma. Defending champions ES Setif (7 times), JS Kabile (6) and USM Alger (6) have gotten more(a) their fair share of Champions League appearances for Algeria, and Setif (against Raja Casablanca) and USM Alger (against AS Kaloum) will still be with this years’ competition.

For Eulma, their game against CS Sfaxien offers them to be able to advance towards the group phase at their initial attempt. They stunned Ghanaian champions Asante Kotoko in Kumasi that has a 2-1 victory inside the second round, but will become as underdogs against Sfaxien, who won three CAF Confederations Cups and lost the 2006 Champions League final against Al Ahly. Sfaxien have just appointed former Burkina Faso and Gabon coach Paulo Duarte as well as the former Uniao Leiria defender is upfront about his side’s ambitions. “The CAF Champions League would be the dream if you play with the highest level. Whenever you work to win the championship, you’re always motivated to win the CAF Champions League. Here is the goal on this team.” The final match of the second round sees another Tunisian club, Esperance, go Sudan for clash against Al Merrikh.


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