JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, December 11 – Champions Tusker have a daunting first leg encounter on their return to the CAF Champions League after being handed seven-time winners, Al Ahly of Egypt in the first round of the competition.
Tusker will earn the right to face the Cairo giants who are currently at the FIFA Club World Cup if they prevail over Seychelois side Saint Michael United in the preliminary phase of the competition over two legs.
Tusker narrowly lost the their preliminary tie to APR 1-0 on aggregate in last season’s competition after he two sides played out a barren draw in Nairobi followed by the slim victory by the Rwandese military side at their Kigali backyard.
Cup winners, Gor Mahia, will play Anse Reunion also of Seychelles where they will clash with another Egyptian giant ENPPI in the first round should they navigate past the islanders.
K’Ogalo crashed out of the competition last season with a 4-0 aggregate defeat to Ferroviario Maputo after a 3-0 away loss in Mozambique before a 1-0 reverse in Nairobi.
In the Champions League, Ahly are among nine winners of the premier African club competition included in the 2013 line-up and the draw for the three, two-leg qualifying rounds made behind closed doors in Cairo.
Zamalek of Egypt, Vita of DR Congo, Orlando Pirates of South Africa, Asante Kotoko of Ghana and Union Douala of Cameroon feature in the preliminary round and TP Mazembe of DRC, Esperance of Tunisia and Setif of Algeria got byes.
A powerful 56-club field chasing a $1.5 million first prize also includes five former winners of other CAF titles in Bizertin of Tunisia, Enugu Rangers of Nigeria, FUS Rabat of Morocco, Horoya of Guinea and Al Merreikh of Sudan.
Ahly edged Esperance 3-2 over two legs to win a record-stretching seventh title last month and the two North African giants will be the teams to beat again next year along with 2010 Club World Cup runners-up Mazembe.
Conquering Africa earned Ahly a fourth shot this month at the club world title in Japan and they defeated local champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1 in a quarter-final to secure a last-four clash with Brazilian side Corinthians.
The Cairo Red Devils won the 2012 Champions League after defying the odds by playing all but one of seven home fixtures behind closed doors and entering CAF matches ‘cold’ with domestic football barred since last February.
Ahly and other Egyptian sides involved in international games had to play in empty stadiums because of security fears after 74 deaths in Port Said riots after Ahly lost a league match there against local club Al Masry.
Assuming the Red Devils see off Tusker or Michel, they will face Bizertin, Al Ittihad of Libya, Dynamos of Zimbabwe or Correctional Services of Lesotho for a place in the group phase, where the prize money kicks in.
Esperance have appeared in the past three finals — beating Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and losing to Mazembe and Ahly — and start another title challenge away to Primeiro Agosto of Angola or AS Adema of Madagascar.
Mazembe, winners twice and semi-finalists once in the last four Champions League competitions, should not be unduly troubled by Maxaquene of Mozambique or Mochudi Centre Chiefs of Botswana.
Success for the Congolese would set up a last-16 showdown with Pirates, provided the South Africans atone for poor recent results in Africa by defeating Djabal of Comoros Islands and Zanaco of Zambia or Mbabane Swallows of Swaziland.
Zamalek, the second most successful Champions League club after Cairo rivals Ahly with five titles, face Gazelle of Chad, Vita play Dynamic of Togo, Kotoko tackle Ela Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Douala confront LISCR of Liberia.
Setif, hoping to bring the trophy back to Algeria after a 23-year absence, begin against the winners of a tie between ASPAC of Benin and ASFA Yennenga of Burkina Faso.
The three qualifying rounds begin on February 15 and end on May 5 with the eight second round winners advancing to the group phase and the losers to the play-offs in the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup.