The Pride of Benue, as Lobi Stars are fondly called, start their group stage campaign in the CAF Champions League on Friday by welcoming 2016 champions Mamelodi Sundowns to Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, the adopted home ground of the Makurdi-based side.

It’s the second time at this stage for the Nigerian champions who finished third – behind group leaders Hearts of Oak of Ghana and Egypt’s Al Ahly-  in the 2000 edition.

Lobi Stars won the abridged Nigerian Premier Football League last season to qualify as the country’s only club in the continent’s flagship club tournament. On their way to the group stage, they dispatched Cameroon’s UMS de Loum 2-1 aggregate at the preliminary stage and Gor Mahia of Kenya on away goal rule after 3-3 deadlock in the first round.

On their part, Mamelodi Sundowns eliminated Leones Vegetarianos of Equatorial Guinea 7-1 aggregate in the preliminary stage and Libya’s Al-Ahly Benghazi 4-0 aggregate thereafter. 

Unlike Lobi Stars, who returned to this competition after an 18-year hiatus, the Brazilians from South Africa have not missed out of the Champions League since 2015 and were quarterfinalists in 2017. Finalists in 2001, Mamelodi Sundowns have a far better credentials than Lobi Stars on the continent.

While Lobi Stars have not been actively engaged as a result of the prolonged delay in commencing the local season, Mamelodi Sundowns have been in the groove in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League which is going into its 18th Matchday this weekend.

Coming into this match, Pitso Mosimane’s men have remained unbeaten in their last nine matches winning five and, playing a draw on four occasions

Sundowns will count on goalkeeper Denis Onyango, controversially placed in Africa XI released by CAF this week, to continue his good form. The Ugandan stopper, who helped his national team qualify for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations without conceding a goal with a match remaining in the qualifying round, is expected to be tested by Sikiru Alimi, who scored three of the five goals by Lobi Stars en-route the group stage.

Although Lobi Stars have kept a clean sheet at home in the competition, they should be wary of Jeremy Brockie, Mamelodi Sundowns’ leading scorer in the tournament with three games from four outings.

Defender Chile Azu says Lobi Stars are not intimidated by the pedigree of their South African counterparts as they have been concentrating on only their on preparations. 

“We know the assignment at hand and are more than ready to make our fans happy right from the first game until the entire six games we are going to play in the group stage. We are going to be focused on our preparations while we are going to wait to get more information about them. We are not afraid,” he told

Winning the first match is crucial in a group that features two other former champions.

Also in Group A, 2017 winners Wydad Casablanca will face-off with ASEC Mimosas later same Friday. While the Moroccan side also won the competition in 1992 and were runners-up in 2011, their Ivorien opponents were victorious in 1998 and runners-up in 1995.

This term, Wydad got a bye into the first round where they kicked out ASC Diaraf of Senegal on away goal rule after 3-3 deadlock in both legs, while ASEC beat Gabon’s AS Mangasport 1-0 aggregate in the preliminary round and Mali’s Stade Malien 2-0 aggregate in the first round.

The Confederation Cup will feature the playoff round leading to the group stage. Nigeria’s representatives Enugu Rangers will be in Lesotho to challenge Bantu FC on Sunday.

Friday fixtures…

CAF Champions League (Matchday 1)

Group ALobi Stars (Nigeria) vMamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) (5pm), 

Wydad Casablanca (Morocco)vASEC Mimosas (Côte d’Ivoire) (8pm)

Group B: Horoya (Guinea) v Espérance (Tunisia) (5pm)

Group C:  Club Africain (Tunisia) v CS Constantine (Algeria) (8pm)

CAF Confederation Cup (Playoff first leg): 

  • Al-Ahly Benghazi (Libya) v NA Hussein Dey (Algeria) (5pm)

Saturday fixtures…

CAF Champions League (Matchday 1)

Group B: FC Platinum (Zimbabwe) v Orlando Pirates (South Africa) (2pm)

Group C: TP Mazembe (DR Congo) v Ismaily (Egypt) (2pm)

Group D: Simba (Tanzania) v JS Saoura (Algeria) (2pm),

Al-Ahly (Egypt) v AS Vita Club (DR Congo) (8pm)

CAF Confederation Cup (Playoff first leg): 

  • Nkana (Zambia) v FC San Pédro (Côte d’Ivoire) (2pm)
  •  Vipers (Uganda) v CS Sfaxien (Tunisia) (2pm)
  •  African Stars FC (Namibia) v Raja Casablanca (Morocco) (3pm)
  •  Stade Malien (Mali) v Petro de Luanda (Angola) (5pm)

Sunday fixtures…

CAF Confederation Cup (Playoff first leg):

  • Bantu FC (Lesotho) v Rangers (Nigeria) (3pm)
  • Gor Mahia (Kenya) v New Star FC (Cameroon) (2pm)
  • ZESCO United (Zambia) v Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa) (2pm)
  • Jimma Aba Jifar (Ethiopia) v Hassania Agadir (Morocco) (2pm);
  • Coton Sport (Cameroon) v Ashante Kotoko SC (Ghana), (3.30pm)
  • AS Otôho (Congo Republic) v KCCA (Uganda) (3:30pm)
  • Ittihad Tanger (Morocco) v Zamalek (Egypt) (4pm)
  • Al-Nasr (Libya) v Salitas FC (Burkina Faso) (5pm)
  • ASC Diaraf (Senegal) v RS Berkane (Morocco) (5:30pm),
  • Al-Hilal Omdurman (Sudan) v Mukura Victory Sports (Rwanda) (6pm) 

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