African football stays in focus

 African football stays in focus

Although the Africa Cup of Nations is over, African football remains in the focus this weekend as the first match day of the group stage of the continental competitions takes place. 

The jewel in the crown, is, of course, the CAF Champions League and the draw for the groups brought together some of the continent’s heavy weights.

In Group A the holders Al Ahly were drawn together with past champions Mamelodi Sundowns and Sudanese giants Al Hilal and Al Merrikh, with Sundowns kicking off their campaign on Friday against Al Hilal. The other match between Al Merrikh and Al Ahly will be played in March as the Egyptian club is involved in the FIFA Club World Cup on Saturday.

Sundowns coach Rhulani Mokwena received some welcome news ahead of the game, when the club announced that they had signed Bolivian international Erwin Saavedra, who could be thrown in at the deep end, despite only having arrived in South Africa this week.

South African first-timers AmaZulu, who are coached by Benni McCarthy and won the UEFA Champions League with Porto as a player, are facing a tough start away at Raja Casablanca in Group B on Saturday. The other group game sees Guinean team Horoya face two-time winners ES Sétif on the same day.

AmaZulu playmaker Keagan Buchanan said they did not fear the competition. “The experience from players who are experienced will help. Those who have never played in continental competition before also now have an opportunity to challenge themselves”.

One of the surprise teams in the group stages are Jwaneng Galaxy from Botswana, who were drawn into Group C with three North African clubs in Espérance de Tunis, Étoile du Sahel and CR Belouizdad.

Both opening matches are being played in Tunis, with Étoile opening proceedings against Belouizdad on Friday, while Espérance face Galaxy the next day.

Group D also sees two teams from the same country competing, as Angolan clubs Sagrada Esperança and Petro de Luanda travel to north Africa for their fixtures against Wydad Casablanca and Zamalek respectively.

This weekend also sees the start of the Confederations Cup, where some of the powerhouses of African club football are seeking redemption after losing out on the Champions League group stage.

TP Mazembe, who not too long were the stand-out team in African club football and have won the Confederations Cup two times, will be facing near-neighbours AS Otohô in their opening Group C game on Sunday, the same day Coton Sport face Al Masry in the other group match.

Other teams to watch in the competition are South African club Orlando Pirates, CS Sfaxien from Tunis, as well as Pyramids and Zanaco from Zambia.

The ambitious Egyptian club, who are out to challenge Zamalek and Al Ahly, and are only in their fourth season under new ownership and with a new name, finished runners-up in the competition two seasons ago and are keen to go one better this time around.

With so many great games to choose from, it is exciting to note that football fans throughout Zambia are keen to catch as much action as possible by tuning to TopStar as the country’s leading digital-TV operator will be showing the best of the action live and exclusively.

Alice Nachilembe

Alice Nachilembe is a Journalist who yearns for a better country with leaders being accountable to their mandate without oppressing the governed.