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26 Nov 2018 08:24
While Sundowns have toughened up from constant African exposure, they struggled in Togo last year against rough opponents and will probably be happy to leave Malabo on level terms. (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo)
There are five former CAF Champions League trophy-holders among the 52 clubs involved in the first series of 2018/2019 season matches this Tuesday and Wednesday.
Orlando Pirates of South Africa and ASEC Mimosas of the Ivory Coast begin the two-leg preliminary round with home fixtures.
Ismaily of Egypt, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and Club Africain of Tunisia have more challenging assignments as they travel first.
Five other champions, holders Esperance of Tunisia, TP Mazembe and V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Al Ahly of Egypt and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco, received byes.
Here is an assessment on how the five former champions in action this week may fare as they set out in pursuit of the $2.5-million first prize.
It is 49 years since the Egyptian side won a competition then called the African Cup of Champions Clubs and nine seasons since they last appeared in the competition.
They are away to Le Messager de Ngozi, a Burundian outfit debuting in the Champions League but with previous CAF experience having played in the second-tier Confederation Cup.
Burundian football is on an upward curve with the national team poised to reach the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time and Ismaily will do well to avoid a first-leg loss.
Damage limitation will top the agenda of Light Stars when the Seychellois club visits Soweto to face South African Premiership leaders Pirates.
The previous time the Indian Ocean outfit came to South Africa they suffered a six-goal hiding from Wits in the Confederation Cup.
How big a lead Pirates build under Serb coach Milutin Sredojevic appears to be the only issue with Thembinkosi Lorch and Zambian Justin Shonga potential tormentors of Stars.
Sundowns’ 2016 Champions League-winning coach Pitso Mosimane believes the physicality of the Leones Vegetarianos (Vegetarian Lions) from Equatorial Guinea could trouble his team.
“Equatoguinean clubs are usually full of tall boys, who can be particularly dangerous at free-kicks and corners and when the ball is crossed high into the goalmouth,” he said.
While Sundowns have toughened up from constant African exposure, they struggled in Togo last year against rough opponents and will probably be happy to leave Malabo on level terms.
ASEC, the club where many Ivorians began their careers before moving to Europe, are far less formidable than two decades ago when they lifted the Champions League for the only time.
However, playing at home against modest Mangasport of Gabon gives the Abidjan club an opportunity to create a lead they can defend next week in central Africa.
No Gabonese side has reached the group stage of the Champions League since mini-leagues were introduced in 1997 and that situation is unlikely to change soon.
Club Africain have been among the giants of Tunisian football with Esperance, Etoile Sahel and CS Sfaxien for decades, but CAF success has been limited to the 1991 Champions League.
They set off on another campaign aimed at conquering Africa again with a potentially tricky match at APR of Rwanda, and dodging defeat would be a satisfactory outcome.
APR are vastly experienced African competitors and will be conscious of the need to boost Rwandan football morale after poor Cup of Nations qualifying results.
© Agence France-Presse
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