BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
Rangers will know their opponents in the group stage of this season’s CAF Confederation Cup when the draw is conducted in Cairo this Monday from 1pm (West African time).
The Flying Antelopes, who won the Nigerian Federation Cup last year to qualify for this competition, are placed in the least section (Pot 4) along with AS Otôho (Congo Republic), Ashante Kotoko SC (Ghana) and Hassania Agadir (Morocco).
They are guaranteed to avoid those three teams in the group stage.
Rangers’ three group stage opponents can come from either defending champions Étoile du Sahel (Tunisia), Zamalek (Egypt), ZESCO United (Zambia) or Raja Casablanca (Morocco), all top seeds in the draw.
One other team will also come from Pot 2 which features Al-Hilal (Sudan), CS Sfaxien (Tunisia), RS Berkane (Morocco) and Gor Mahia (Kenya).
In Pot 3, which will also produce a team for Rangers’ group, are Nkana (Zambia), NA Hussein Dey (Algeria), Petro de Luanda (Angola) and Ranger (Burkina Faso).
Raja Casablanca, the defending champions, entered the competition this time in the first round where they dispatched Gabon’s Cercle Mbéri Sportif 5-1 aggregate before eliminating African Stars of Namibia 2-1 aggregate in the play-off round. Raja also won the title in 2003.
On their way to lifting the trophy last month, Raja stopped Nigeria’s representatives Enyimba in the last four by winning both in Aba and in Casablanca 3-1 overall.
Étoile du Sahel, the team with the highest ranking among the group stage qualifiers, stopped the march of Plateau United, the then Nigerian champions, in the first round of the 2017/18 CAF Champions League 4-3 aggregate.
But Enyimba had eliminated Étoile du Sahel in the second round of the 2015/16 CAF Champions League. Both teams ended the two legs 3-3 but the People’s Elephant triumphed 4-3 penalties only to get kicked out in the group stage.
That CAF Champions League elimination of Enyimba was the most recent encounter between Zamalek, another of team in Pot 1, and any Nigerian team. The Egyptian side won their two fixtures against Enyimba 1-0 either way to leave Enyimba at the foot of the group’s table.
Gor Mahia, one of the teams in Pot 2, fell to Nigerian champions Lobi Stars on away goal difference in the first round of this season’s CAF Champions League, which led to their relegation to the Confederation Cup. Having survived the play-off round, the draw may pitch the Kenya side against yet another Nigerian team – Rangers.
For Sudan’s Al-Hilal, who are in Pot 2, they stopped Akwa United on away goal rule in the playoff round of the 2017/18 CAF Confederation Cup.
In the 2012/13 CAF Confederation Cup, Rangers were to face CS Sfaxien of Tunisia in the playoff round. The Nigerian team won the first leg at home 1-0 but CAF ruled that they fielded an ineligible player in the second leg and therefore got disqualified.
The group stage will run from February 3 to March 17 with six matches played in each of the four groups.
The top two teams in each of group will play the quarterfinals in April.
The two-legged finals will hold in May.