JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Apr 01 – Struggling African giants Zamalek of Egypt and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo visit Algeria this weekend seeking victories that could help avoid humiliating CAF Champions League exits.
Zamalek must defeat Mouloudia Alger to stay in contention for a top-two finish in Group D while Group B tailenders Mazembe will be eliminated if defeated by Chabab Belouizdad.
“I have been working on raising morale, improving fitness and creating enjoyment among the squad,” said Patrice Carteron, the French coach recently hired for a second spell with five-time champions Zamalek.
Here, AFP Sport previews matchday 5 as several clubs seek to join already-qualified Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Esperance of Tunisia in the quarter-finals.
Victories for leaders Simba of Tanzania, at home to V Club of DR Congo, and title-holders Al Ahly of Egypt, away to Al Merrikh of Sudan, will assure them of last-eight places.
It is a realistic scenario although V Club have been extremely unpredictable, notably when holding Ahly in Egypt and then losing heavily at home to the Cairo Red Devils 10 days later.
When Simba hosted V Club two seasons back the Congolese alleged that there was a strange smell in the changeroom and the drinking water had an unusual taste.
The form of Mozambican attacker Luis Miquissone has been a key factor in the rise of Simba, whose French coach Didier Gomes da Rosa can choose a team containing stars from eight nations.
Sundowns take the only perfect four-win group record this season to the Omdurman stadium where South Africa were booted out of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying competition last Sunday.
Several Sundowns stars were in the team beaten 2-0 by Sudan and will realise that far more commitment is necessary if they are complete a double over Al Hilal, having won by two goals in Pretoria.
Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi has told a multi-national squad including Uruguayans Gaston Sirino and Mauricio Affonso that “we have won nothing yet so keep your feet planted on the ground”.
Belouizdad and Hilal have three points each and five-time champions Mazembe two, and all three sides are seeking a first victory in the section.
Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa host Wydad in Soweto and want to prove they are a much better team than that which committed a string of defensive blunders when losing 4-0 to the Moroccans last month.
Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune proved particularly vulnerable and the two-time champions from Casablanca are likely to face Nigerian shot-stopper Daniel Akpeyi this time.
The South Africans can draw some comfort from keeping clean sheets in their other seven Champions League matches as they seek to pip Horoya of Guinea for the second qualifying spot.
Horoya, who play Petro Luanda in Angola, lead Chiefs on goal difference and their immediate goal is reaching the quarter-finals for a third time in four seasons.
The pre-group assumption that Esperance and Zamalek, who have won the competition nine times between them, would cruise to the knockout stage has suffered a severe jolt due to Mouloudia Alger.
Well organised defensively, the Algerians have drawn with both clubs and need only one point against visiting Zamalek to clinch a quarter-finals place at the expense of the Egyptians.
Zamalek reacted to gathering just two points from a possible 12 by axing Portuguese coach Jaime Pacheco and luring Carteron back from Saudi Arabia.
But the 50-year former coach of Mali, TP Mazembe, Al Ahly and Raja Casablanca admits he “needs time to fix various problems” and it is hard to imagine 2020 runners-up Zamalek making it to the final this season.