CAF: Who will take Mazembe’s Champions League crown?
With much political and civil unrest disrupting a great deal of the 2011 CAF Champions League it is an achievement in itself that the group stages will be played as originally scheduled. Many games were either postponed, re-scheduled or teams disqualified from the tournament for various reasons in what has been a difficult tournament to organize. Defending champions TP Mazembe should’ve been playing in the group stages but were disqualified after having been found to have fielded an ineligible player in the first round of qualifying. Despite these setbacks there are eight teams split into the customary two groups who will be fighting it out over the next four months to become Africa’s best club side.
Group A sees two former champions, Enyimba FC (Nigeria) and Raja Casablanca (Morocco), battle it out along with two highly ambitious sides in Cotonsport (Cameroon) and Al-Hilal Omdurman (Sudan). Enyimba, back-to-back champions in 2003 and 2004, are eleven points behind league leaders Dolphins FC in the Nigerian Premier League and will put a great deal of emphasis on winning their third African crown. Raja Casablanca, fresh from clinching their tenth domestic title earlier this season, now hope to add an overdue fourth continental title in the trophy cabinet having last won this competition in 1999. Al-Hilal, currently lying second in the Sudanese Premier League, have never got beyond the semi-finals of this competition and feel that they can reach this stage again this time around. Cotonsport, who sealed their eleventh domestic crown in Cameroon last weekend, were beaten finalists in 2008 and are one of the biggest clubs never to be African champions, a situation they hope to put right this time around.
Group B features four clubs who have been champions of Africa nine times between them. Al Ahly (Egypt) are the most dominant force in the competition’s history with six victories, the last four having been won in the last decade. Having sealed yet another domestic title in Egypt, Al Ahly will fancy themselves in this competition yet again. 1994 winners Espérance (Tunisia) have recently claimed a record-extending 24th title in their home country but have underachieved in this tournament and are desperate to make amends having been routed 6-1 in last year’s final. Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), champions in 1992, had to be content with third place in this year’s Moroccan championship whilst MC Alger (Algeria), who haven’t lifted a title in this competition for over three decades, were a distant 26 points behind champions ASO Chlef in their national championship so it is imperative for these clubs to get over domestic disappointment with a wonderful showing on continental level.
This year’s tournament gets under way this weekend with each team hoping to get that crucial first victory under their belts. In Group A things kick off with Enyimba and Raja Casablanca at home to Al-Hilal and Cotonsport respectively whilst Group B sees Al Ahly and MC Alger playing hosts to Wydad Casablanca and Espérance.