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Former African champions face daunting challenges

Pitso Mosimane coached Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa to the 2016 CAF Champions League title © AFP / RODGER BOSCH

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Aug 22 – South African clubs Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates are among five former CAF Champions League trophy-holders trailing by one goal on aggregate ahead of preliminary round second legs this weekend.

“Otoho will sit back and park the bus,” says Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane of the Congo Brazzaville side who hold a 2-1 lead entering the return match in Pretoria.

“If we score early it will be much better because they (Otoho) cannot then sit back, they will have to come out and play.”

AFP Sport puts the spotlight on Sundowns, Pirates and fellow former African champions Asante Kotoko of Ghana, Enyimba of Nigeria and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, all of whom enjoy home advantage.

Enyimba

The 2003 and 2004 champions from southeastern city Aba must play behind closed doors as they seek to overcome a 1-0 deficit against debutants Rahimo of Burkina Faso.

Despite major renovations at the ground, the tournament organisers have barred spectators because the floodlights are inadequate and there is a lack of CCTV cameras and an electronic scoreboard.

Enyimba are the only Nigerian club to have won the elite club competition and it would be a major blow to the pride of the African football powerhouse if the side were eliminated by rookies.

Etoile

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Karim Aribi scored after only two minutes away to Hafia of Guinea, but 2007 trophy-holders Etoile finished 2-1 losers after Mohamed Sacca snatched an injury-time winner.

Hafia were African giants in the 1970s, reaching final Champions League finals and winning three, but suffered a sharp decline in fortunes since and this is their first appearance since 1983.

Etoile are guided by Faouzi Benzarti, the most successful African coach in CAF club competitions with five titles, and it hard to imagine them not eliminating Hafia.

Kotoko

Kotoko, the 1970 and 1983 African champions, trailed and led before finishing 3-2 losers away to Kano Pillars of Nigeria in one of the most exciting first legs this season.

Veteran Rabiu Ali levelled with 20 minutes remaining, then set up the winner for Muhammed Gambo soon after to leave the west African showdown finely balanced.

“We performed well in Nigeria and I believe we should have at least drawn,” said Kjetil Zachariassen, the Norwegian coach of Kotoko.

Pirates

A disastrous start to the season has seen Pirates fail to win or score in four matches in all competitions and have lost Serb coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic to Egyptian club Zamalek.

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The club who conquered Africa in 1995 must overtake a 1-0 loss away to Green Eagles of Zambia, who are first-time Champions League competitors.

Should Eagles score in Soweto, a Pirates side under caretaker coach Rhulani Mokwena many find having to find the net at least three times beyond their ability.

Sundowns

Veteran Sundowns midfielder Hlompho Kekana scored a brilliant midweek goal in a domestic league draw, but will miss the clash with Otoho after being red-carded in the first leg.

Mosimane was pleased the match with Cape Town City took place this Tuesday, giving the 2016 African champions more time to prepare for the physically formidable Congolese.

Otoho shocked 2018 semi-finalists Primeiro Agosto of Angola in a preliminary tie last year and are now eyeing overall victory against 2019 semi-finalists Sundowns.

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