JOHANNESBURG, June 25 – Egyptians Al-Ahly top an eight-club field of African title winners when the CAF Confederation Cup group stage kicks off this weekend.
The Cairo-based outfit won the second-tier competition last year and raised to 19 the record number of CAF trophies they have lifted.
Ahly, compatriots Zamalek, Tunisians Esperance and Etoile Sahel and South Africans Orlando Pirates have won the CAF Champions League, the marquee event on the African club football calendar.
Completing the field are Tunisians CS Sfaxien, Congolese AC Leopards and Malians Stade Malien, all former CAF Confederation Cup holders.
Ahly host Esperance Sunday in the final and stand-out matchday 1 fixture and the visitors are among the seven most successful African clubs with five titles.
This match at the Suez Army Stadium marks the debut of former Olympique Marseille coach Jose Anigo as boss of Esperance, who have won every African competition except the Confederation Cup.
The 54-year-old, who spent two spells in charge of Marseille, must tackle Ahly without six first choices.
Defenders Mohamed Ben Mansour and Chamseddine Dhaouadi and Cameroonian striker Yannick N’Djeng are injured.
Suspensions rule out Ghailene Chaalali and Iheb Mbarki and fellow midfielder and captain Oussama Darragi has gone missing.
“It is true that a week is a very short time to prepare for a match of this magnitude,” Anigo admitted to the Tunisian media.
“But we will try and do well against Ahly, who are a great African club.”
Anigo succeeded Portuguese Jose De Morais, a former assistant of Jose Mourinho at several clubs, who quit after failing to land the Tunisian title.
Ahly and Esperance have been involved in some classic CAF clashes down the years, most recently the 2012 Champions League final won by the Egyptians.
Etoile Sahel and Stade Malien are the other Group A clubs and they get the ball rolling with a Friday night clash in Mediterranean resort Sousse.
Notorious for changing coaches, Etoile have put veteran Faouzi Benzarti in charge a fifth time as they try to improve on 2013 group results against the Bamako outfit.
After forcing a goalless draw in Mali, Etoile suffered a shock 1-0 home loss to Stade and spoilt their chances of a semi-finals place.
Orlando Pirates return Saturday to Dolisie, where they were sunk by a cross-cum-shot Leopards goal in the Champions League two years ago.
The Soweto side impressed in qualifying for the group stage, scoring two goals each in away games against Ugandan, Gabonese and Guinean opponents.
Should the South Africans equal that scoring feat, they stand a good chance of securing at least a point against the shock 2012 Confederation Cup winners.
Zamalek host Sfaxien in Cairo later Saturday in the other Group B game, which brings together two highly decorated African clubs.
The Egyptians are the second most successful CAF club with nine titles while Sfaxien have lifted the Confederation Cup a record three times.
Each team plays their three rivals at home and away and the first and second-place finishers in both groups advance to the semi-finals of a competition worth USD 660,000 to the winners.