Time has come for the vital knockout stages of the continent’s premier club competition, with eight former champions battling for the Holy Grail of African club football.
The 2019-20 CAF Champions League quarterfinals kickoff this weekend, with four first leg games scheduled over Friday and Saturday. Egyptian capital Cairo and Morocco’s Casablanca will be the venue this weekend, with back to back games on the infamous Cairo International Stadium and Mohamed V Complex respectively.
The return legs are scheduled in seven days, with aggregate winners reaching the last four, continuing their way to continental glory.
Zamalek (Egypt) v Esperance (Tunisia)
(Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, 28.02.2020 – 16:00 GMT)
A couple of weeks after locking horns in the 2020 CAF Super Cup, giants Zamalek and Esperance renew their rivalry when they face in Cairo.
Zamalek emerged 3-1 victorious in Doha, Qatar on 14 February to claim their fourth CAF Super Cup title and cement Esperance’s jinx in the annual one match playoff. But the titleholders will seek revenge in the most prestigious Champions League.
With nine titles between them (five for Zamalek, one less for Esperance), this is going to be a battle of titans on the pitch.
Zamalek’s French coach Patrice Carteron knows it well when continental football is concerned, having won CAF titles with TP Mazembe, Raja Casablanca before tasting the same glory with Zamalek. On the other hand Moine Chaabani led Esperance to the Champions League title in the previous couple of seasons, setting himself among the continent’s most successful managers.
Zamalek will be counting on expatriates like Tunisian Ferjani Sassi and Moroccan Achraf Bencharki, while Esperance will seek brilliance in the form of Libyan Hamdou Elhouni and experienced Taha Yassine Khenissi.
Raja Casablanca (Morocco) v TP Mazembe (DR Congo)
(Mohamed V Complex, Casablanca, 28.02.2020 – 19:00 GMT)
The two former champions have many things in common. Both have lifted the CAF Champions League trophy more than once (five times for Mazembe, three for Raja), both went to win numerous CAF competitions, and both finished the FIFA Club World Cup as runner ups; the best African achievement in the global competition (Mazembe in 2010, Raja in 2013).
Moreover, both sides’ coaches have been previous players, and even won the CAF Champions League title with their clubs. Jamel Sellami was one of Raja’s winning squad members in 1997, while Pamphile Mihayo led Mazembe to the title in 2009 and 2010.
It’s their second encounter in Champions League history after a group stage meeting in 2002 where each side enjoyed a home victory.
Raja will be counting on their charismatic skipper Badr Banoun and inform striker Soufiane Rahimi, while Mazembe needs their talismanic striker and the tournament’s top scorer Jackson Muleka to be in his day to snatch an away positive result that could help their cause.
Al Ahly (Egypt) v Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)
(Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, 29.02.2020 – 16:00 GMT)
There’s no talk inside the Cairo Red Devils castle but the awaited encounter against Mamelodi Sundowns.
Despite beating the Pretoria side to win the title in 2001, Al Ahly faced a nightmare last season when they conceded their worst defeat in their continental history, losing 5-0 to The Brazilians at the very same stage.
Since the draw was conducted, Al Ahly faithful supporters are seeking revenge for their side who are still chasing a record extending ninth Champions League title, one that’s eluding them since 2013.
Meanwhile, Sundowns who settled themselves as one of the continent’s big guns in recent years after bagging their maiden Champions League titles in 2016 are hoping for yet another shock in the premier club competition.
Ahly’s Swiss coach Rene Weiler, who settled his way well in the domestic Egyptian Premier League with 16 consecutive wins this season, knows well that the Champions League title is the club’s first priority.
But to continue his side’s campaign he needs to overcome resistance from one of the continent’s best coaches in recent times in the form of Pitso Mosimane.
Nigeria’s Junior Ajayi and Tunisian Ali Maaloul are Ahly’s men to watch, while Sundowns will have their South American flavor in the form of Brazilian Ricardo Nascimento and Uruguayan Gaston Sirino among others.
Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) v Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia)
(Mohamed V Complex, Casablanca, 29.02.2020 – 19:00 GMT)
This might be their first CAF Champions League encounter between Wydad and Etoile, but both sides are former champions (twice for Wydad, once for Etoile) and seasonal campaigners.
They faced twice in other CAF competitions with Etoile emerging as aggregate winners in both occasions.
Ironically, Wydad will enter the game led by Etoile’s former coach. Spaniard Juan Carlos Garrido was sacked by Etoile earlier this month, and he was revealed as Wydad coach following the departure of Sebastien Desabre just 72 hours before the scheduled encounter against his former side.
His successor and Etoile’s former player Kais Zouaghi will be his opponent this weekend.
Wydad will hope their Congolese striker Kazadi Kasengu will continue his goal scoring form, while Etoile are backing on their Algerian forward and top scorer Karim Aribi to lead their side to an away positive result.