JOHANNESBURG, May 5 – African club giants Etoile Sahel and TP Mazembe launch their CAF Confederation Cup challenges this weekend at the play-offs stage of a competition they wanted to avoid.
Etoile of Tunisia and Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo began the 2016 season in the CAF Champions League, the most prestigious and richest club event on the African calendar.
But both failed to get past the final qualifying round with Etoile losing a penalty shoot-out against Enyimba of Nigeria after wiping out a three-goal first-leg deficit.
Defending champions Mazembe fell by two goals away to Wydad Casablanca and were held at home with the Moroccans equalising in stoppage time.
Etoile and Mazembe have won nine CAF titles each, achievements surpassed only by Al Ahly of Egypt with 18 triumphs.
The silver lining for Etoile is demotion to the Confederation Cup gives them a chance to win the competition twice in a row after beating Orlando Pirates of South Africa in the last final.
Brazilian striker Diogo Acosta has been in good form for the Red Devils from Mediterranean resort Sousse.
If Etoile can close the gaps exposed by Enyimba in Nigeria they should build a lead at home to surprise qualifiers Mounana of Gabon.
Recently appointed Mazembe coach Hubert Velud has appealed for patience from supporters disenchanted by failure to reach the Champions League group stage.
“I just got here,” he said, referring to his arrival this year after the contract of fellow French coach Patrice Carteron was not renewed.
“Mazembe want to win trophies every year and we have the Confederation Cup in our sights now.”
The club from Congolese mining city Lubumbashi have been goal shy lately, sorely missing Tanzanian striker Mbwana Aly Samatta, who moved to Belgium.
Ghanaian Daniel Nii Adjei showed signs of inheriting the leading scorer role, but has lacked consistency.
Mazembe host Stade Gabesien, a Tunisian outfit competing in Africa for the first time and unbeaten in qualifying tor the play-offs with two victories and four draws.
Hichem Essifi, the striker Tunisians call ‘The Hulk’ because of his imposing physique, will warrant special attention from the Congolese.
Three days after winning the South African title a record-extending seventh time, Mamelodi Sundowns face Medeama of Ghana near Pretoria.
Young Africans must shackle leading Confederation Cup scorer Arsenio ‘Love’ Cabungula from Angolan club Esperanca Sagrada in Dar es Salaam if they hope to become the first Tanzanian team to reach the group stage.
The match between Stade Malien of Mali and FUS Rabat of Morocco pits former Confederation Cup title-holders against each other in Bamako.
Al Ahly of Libya host Misr Elmaqasah of Egypt in Tunis because lawlessness prevents the game being staged in Tripoli.
Mouloudia Bejaia of Algeria against Esperance of Tunisia and Al Merrikh of Sudan against Kawkab Marrakech of Morocco complete the first-leg schedule.