BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
Lobi Stars will be in Pot 4 when the draw for the group stage of the 2018/19 CAF Champions League is conducted at the 6th of October City, Cairo, the Egyptian capital where the headquarters of Confédération Africaine de Football are located.
With the pots for the draw now know, it means that the only teams the Nigerian champions will avoid include Egypt’s Ismail, who were beaten in the 2003 final when Enyimba won Nigeria’s first title in the competition. Ismail had won the African Cup of Champions Clubs in 1969 and are in the same pot with Lobi Stars for this year’s group stage draw.
Others in that same pot with Lobi Stars are FC Platinum (Zimbabwe) and JS Saoura (Algeria).
Top seeds (Pot 1) include defending champions Espérance, who will play their first match of the competition at the group stage after earning a wild card. In addition to being the reigning champions, the Tunisian side lifted the trophy in 1994 and 2011 and had been runners-up four other times.
Also in Pot 1 are TP Mazembe (DR Congo), Al-Ahly (Egypt) and Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), who all have better CAF ratings than Espérance.
Al-Ahly boast the best record having been crowned African champions eight times and runners-up on four occasions. But TP Mazembe (five-time champions) have the current best rating in the continent given that their last triumph in the competition was more recent (2015) than Al-Ahly’s (2013).
Wydad Casablanca were champions twice (1992 and 2017) and runners-up in 2011.
One of these illustrious teams will headline the group Lobi Stars find themselves.
In Pot 2 are another caste of former champions – Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa), AS Vita Club (DR Congo), Horoya (Guinea) and Club Africain (Tunisia), one of them a prospect for Lobi Stars in the group stage.
Mamelodi Sundowns were champions in 2016 and runners-up 15 years earlier, AS Vita Club were crowned champions in 1973 and No 2 in 1981 and 2014, Horoya won the African Cup Winners’ Cup (now the CAF Confederation Cup) in 1978, while Club Africain were winners of the African Cup of Champions Clubs in 1991.
In Pot 3 are ASEC Mimosas (Côte d’Ivoire) and Orlando Pirates (South Africa), both former champions, as well as Simba (Tanzania) and CS Constantine (Algeria).
A group that parades Espérance, Club Africain, ASEC Mimosas will produce an awesome challenge for Lobi Stars who will be making their first appearance in the group stage of this elite competition since 2000.
Whatever happens on Friday when the draw is conducted in Cairo, Lobi Stars know that work is well cut out going forward.
On that same day, Enugu Rangers will know their opposition in the CAF Confederation Cup playoff, which is the last hurdle leading to the group stage of the continental second-tier club tournament.
Rangers will avoid the teams the qualifiers from the CAF Confederation Cup. These include Zamalek (Egypt), Raja Casablanca (Morocco), KCCA (Uganda), CS Sfaxien (Tunisia) and RS Berkane (Morocco).
Others are: NA Hussein Dey (Algeria), Petro de Luanda (Angola), Salitas FC (Burkina Faso), New Star FC (Cameroon), Ashante Kotoko SC (Ghana), FC San Pédro (Côte d’Ivoire), Hassania Agadir (Morocco), Enugu Rangers (Nigeria), Mukura Victory Sports (Rwanda) and Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa).
The likely teams that will aim to stop Rangers will come from among CAF Champions League drop-outs, which include Kenya’s Gor Mahia, sent packing in that competition by Lobi Stars.
Also possible for Rangers are ZESCO United (Zambia), Al-Hilal (Sudan), Coton Sport (Cameroon), Stade Malien (Mali), Al-Ahly Benghazi (Libya),Nkana (Zambia) and AS Otôho (Congo Republic).
The rest are: Jimma Aba Jifar (Ethiopia), Bantu FC (Lesotho), Al-Nasr (Libya), Ittihad Tanger (Morocco), African Stars FC (Namibia), ASC Diaraf (Senegal) and Vipers (Uganda).
The 15 victorious teams in the playoff will join reigning champions Étoile du Sahel in the group stage whose draw will be staged next January 21.