Six of the eight teams that are set to compete in the inaugural edition of the African Football League (AFL) are set to start their campaigns in the Total Energies CAF Champions League (CAF CL) this weekend.
Most of the teams were excluded from the preliminary rounds due to their ranking, and join action in the first round, where victory will assure them of a place in the group stages.
South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns will be the first out in action on Friday evening when they play away to Burundian side Bumamuru.
Sundowns missed out on the final last season after losing out to Wydad Athletic Club (WAC) on the away goal rule, and they will be keen to start off on a flier this time round as they seek to replicate their form in 2016 when they won the title.
They will take on the Burundian debutants Bumamuru who progressed to this round after a massive 6-2 aggregate victory over Gabon’s Centre Sportif de Bendje.
On Saturday, Tanzania’s Simba SC will be in Zambia, where they take on Power Dynamos. The two sides played just slightly over a month ago, in the Simba Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam, with Wekundu wa Msimbazi emerging winners.
They meet again, on different circumstances, but Simba are keen to come off with the same result. The Tanzanians reached the quarter finals of last season’s Champions League, where they narrowly lost out to Wydad on penalties after a 1-1 aggregate draw. Their ambition is to get to the semis in the least, and starting well against Dynamos will be a step in the right direction to sail them into the group stages.
Meanwhile, TP Mazembe will start their campaign away in Blantyre, when they take on local champions Nyasa Big Bullets. Mazembe have found it tough in continental football over the last three seasons, but the five time African champions are determined to make the best of their chance this season.
Last season, the Congolese giants failed to make it into the group stages after losing on penalties to Uganda’s Vipers, and had to drop to the Confederation Cup, where they also didn’t do well, as they failed to make it off the group stages.
They face an ambitious Big Bullets side, who progressed to the first round after seeing off Dragons of Equatorial Guinea 3-0 on aggregate.
In Mozambique, Petro de Luanda will kick off their campaign when they take on perennial competitors UD Songo.
Petro failed to make it past the group stages last season and are keen to better that this time round, but they must first make it into the group phase if they can manage a good result over two legs against Songo.
Tunisia’s Esperance meanwhile get their campaign started against Burkina Faso’s AS Douannes, a tricky challenge for Taraji. They reached the semis last season, only losing to eventual champions Al Ahly, and will be outright favourites for this duel, if they play their cards right.
Three-time African champions Wydad Athletic will meanwhile start off their campaign away to Hafia of Guinea, and will want to banish the ghosts from last season that saw them lose the first leg 2-1 away to Nigeria’s Rivers United. They however bounced back with a five-star performance at home to make the group stages and went on all the way for a second consecutive final where they lost to Ahly.
Meanwhile, record African champions Al Ahly will not be in action in the Champions League, as they are in Saudi Arabia, where they will be facing Algeria’s USM Alger in the CAF Super Cup.
Ahly are the most successful club in the Super Cup, having clinched eight titles, and last won the crown in 2021 after beating Raja Club Athletics 6-5 on penalties following a 1-1 aggregate draw.
The eight AFL team, Enyimba, failed to make it into the first round of the Champions League after losing 4-3 to Libya’s Al Ahly Benghazi in the preliminary round.