The second matchday of the group stage in the CAF Champions League could go a long way to deciding who escapes into the semi-finals of Africa’s biggest club competition.
Game of the week
Zamalek – Al Ahly
Not only have Egyptian giantsZamalek and Al Ahly been the most successful teams in the history of the competition, with five and six titles respectively, but they are fierce local rivals trying to one-up each other in a difficult time for Egypt and Egyptian football. With domestic action still a questionmark, continental play is the only respite for the players and supporters of these proud clubs, and so a run further than the group stage would be seen as a massive triumph. The security situationalso means that the hugely-anticipated contest will be played behind closed doors atthe Military Academy Stadium on Sunday. Al Ahly have dealt better with the last six months of crisis as Zamalek have struggled with fitness, want-away players and financial loss. The latest concern for the Whites is a thin backline hit by injuries to Mahmoud Fathalla and Salah Soliman and suspension for Hani Saied. One bright spot is new striker Abdoulaye Cisse, who scored a brace in his debut – a shock 3-2 defeat toBerekum Chelsea on the first Group B matchday. Al Ahly wontheir opening contest: a massive 2-1 victory over TP Mazembe that could leave them in the driver’s seat if they win the derby.
Elsewhere in Group B, four-time African champions Mazembe will try to rebound against the Ghanaian upstartsnamed after the current European champions. The DR Congo side were sluggish in their defeat to Ahly, and will be anxious to claim full points in front of their fans at the new Stade TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi as they look for athird title in four years. The Crows have a potent attack that has yet to lift off in this competition apart from a 6-0 mauling of Zimbabwe’s Power Dynamos back in April, and they will be dealing with the suspension of both Joel Kimwaki and Luka Lungu. Chelsea have a breakout starin Emmanuel Clottey, who nabbed an impressive hat-trick against Zamalek to take his competition-best totalto nine goals – four better than the next closest player.
In Group A, the Tunisian duo of Esperance and Etoile du Sahel are at home trying to consolidate away wins in the first round. Holders Esperance are hosting Algerian side ASO Chlef on Friday, and the Blood and Gold top the group on goal difference with an eye towards August’s match against their domestic rivals. Algerian international Mohamed Youssef Belaili couldmake his debut for Esperancein Rades after the young striking prospect’s transfer from MC Oran. In transformative pre-season mode, Chlef also have a new recruit in Cameroonian Anisat Eninga, who will hope to sparka sometimes sluggish attack, and they will welcome back Samir Zaoui from suspension even as Walid Hichri will miss out through surgery. Nigeria’s Sunshine Stars also may call on a new face as they travel to face ESS after signing winger John Owoeri, who has spent time in the Netherlands, Belgium and Egypt.
Player to watch
Despite being linked to some of Europe’s biggest clubs, Esperance’s Youssef Msakni recently announced he would be transferring to Qatar’s Lekhwiya at the end of the year. The delay is so that theTunisian starlet can help his side defend their continental crown and go out with a big finish at the FIFA Club World Cup, and he has scored in every round of Champions League action so far – including a fortnight ago against Sunshine Stars.
13 – The record number of goals scored by an individual in a Champions League campaign, accomplished in 2008 by Stephen Worgu for Enyimba, but within reach for Berekum Chelsea’s in-form Clottey.
What they said
"When Ahly play Zamalek the matches are the biggest dateson the Egyptian football calendar no matter the time orthe tournament and under anycircumstances,” Ahly manager Hossam El Badry.