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2022-23 CAF Champions League Preview: Group A

Wydad AC

Manager

Mehdi Nafti

Wydad have not been operating at the same level since celebrated manager Walid Regragui left to take over Morocco for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and after Houcine Ammouta was relieved of his duties following a league defeat to ASFAR, former Tunisia national team player Mehdi Nafti took over. It has not been easy for Nafti who has managed to keep Wydad from slipping further down the table but the Red Castle fell at the first stage of the FIFA Club World Cup and his task only gets more difficult with the CAFCL group stage arriving.

The big issue for Wydad is whether they can find a striking presence to replace last season’s hero Guy Mbenza in front of the solid defensive and midfield core that remains from last season. Nafti’s task is to bring the best out of a strike force that is composed of Hamid Ahadad, injury plagued Junior Bouly Sambou and recently loaned Cameroonian Didier Lamkel Zé.

Key Players

Yahya Jabrane- Midfield

The 31-year-old Wydad captain has certainly experienced it all at this point in his career. Jabrane took part in Morocco’s historic run to the 2022 FIFA World Cup semifinals and was part of the Atlas Lions squads that won the 2018 and 2020 African Nations Championships, also participating at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup. A tenacious presence who operates in front of the defensive line in a deep-lying midfield role, Jabrane also contributes his fair share of goals as a penalty kick expert.

Aymane El Hassouni- Attacking Midfield/Forward

With the absence of a major goal scoring presence for Wydad this season following the departure of striker Guy Mbenza, El Hassouni has been the club’s main contributor of goals. The graduate of Wydad’s youth system gives his all on the pitch and is a versatile attacking option for Nafti who can play on the wing or centrally as a second forward or central attacking midfielder. The 27-year-old is enjoying the most productive season of his career and can provide an important goal to make the difference in tight matches.

Yahia Attiyat Allah- Left Back

The attacking left back earned his moment on the biggest stage of all with two starts and four substitute appearances for Morocco at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, looking very capable in Qatar. Wydad supporters knew about the quality of the 27-year-old who is a reliable crosser of the ball and has a strong left foot for set pieces. Attiyat Allah is an important part of the Moroccan core of Wydad, who just need more contributions from their foreign signings this season especially in attack.

PAF’s Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

JS Kabylie

Manager

Miloud Hamdi

It has been a miserable 2022-23 campaign so far for the club from the Kabylie region in the far north of Algeria, who finished as runners-up in the country’s Ligue 1 Professionnelle last season. Currently sitting in the relegation zone, JSK appear ill equipped to advance out of a difficult CAFCL group but have an experienced coach in Hamdi who will attempt to make the best out of a difficult situation. The French-born coach led USM Alger to the final of the 2015 CAF Champions League and has experience with Moroccan club RS Berkane and most recently CS Constantine.

Hamdi took over in early December and will need to utilize his capable midfield while finding a solution to the club’s attacking struggles. Help arrived in the form of forward signing Semir Smajlagic and Hamdi will need either he or misfiring Burkinabé striker Mohamed Lamine Ouattara to be a strong physical presence up top.

Key Players

Salim Boukhanchouche- Midfield

A versatile midfielder who can play in a variety of roles, Boukhanchouche is JSK’s penalty kick taker and makes an impression with highly efficient passing and an eagerness to get involved in the tackle. The 31-year-old arrived this season after a spell abroad with brief stays at Tunisia’s Étoile du Sahel and Abha Club of Saudi Arabia and instantly established himself as a key player. Also has experience with Algeria’s domestic-based national team, taking part in Algeria’s unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN).

Dadi Mouaki- Winger/Forward

Mouaki is JSK’s leading scorer in a campaign where goals have been difficult to obtain for the club with five goals across league play and CAFCL qualifying. The 26-year-old can line up on either wing or as a forward with the ability to strike on goal with either his preferred right foot or the left foot. Ever since returning to Algerian football following an unsuccessful spell with Tunisia’s Étoile du Sahel where he played alongside current teammate Boukhanchouche, Mouaki is a well established attacker in Algeria’s top division who plays with a very direct style.

Juba Oukaci- Midfield

The diminutive midfielder is a local product of JSK’s youth academy and a popular figure at the club, enjoying a breakout 2021-22 season with three goals and four assists in 28 matches. Oukaci usually operates in the center of the midfield where he helps the club transition from defense to attack with his ability to carry the ball. JSK will depend on their midfield to thrive in the CAFCL and considering Oukaci is one of three players in the current squad who played in JSK’s 2020-21 CAF Confederation Cup final defeat to Raja CA, he will be a player the team can count on.

PAF’s Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

Petro de Luanda

Manager

Alexandre Santos

Santos was the managerial star of the 2021-22 CAF Champions League after Petro reached the semifinals for the first time in twenty years and the Portuguese tactician stayed around for another run. It is business as usual for Petro who are currently at the top of Angola’s Girabola and are expecting to be very competitive in Africa’s top club competition yet again.

Santos has the same squad to call upon with the exception of Brazilian goalkeeper Wellington, whose departure saw the arrival of former Cape Town City shot stopper Hugo Marques. Petro will look to remain stable down the middle of the pitch and exploit the wings with their attacking fullbacks and tricky wingers, who can provide service to star striker Tiago Azulão.

Key Players

Tiago Azulão- Striker

Ever since joining Petro and Angolan football in 2016 after a career spent mostly in Brazil’s lower divisions, the 34-year-old has become a legend and surpassed 100 goals this season in Angola’s top division Girabola. Azulão led all scorers in the 2021-22 CAF Champions League with seven goals including the crucial penalty kick in South Africa that helped Petro stun Mamelodi Sundowns to advance to the semifinals. The legendary marksman already has four goals from the qualifying stages of the 2022-23 CAFCL and his production is not slowing down with thirteen goals in Girabola play as well this season.

Tó Carneiro- Left Back

One of Petro’s major strengths is the ability to attack down the wings with their excellent fullbacks and Carneiro provides plenty of attacking ability from the left back position while Eddie Afonso is effective on the right. The 27-year-old improved gradually over the last few seasons, taking part in Petro’s unsuccessful 2019-20 CAFCL group stage campaign before finding success last season and becoming a regular starter for the Angola national team. Carneiro and Afonso are among the most important contributors from Petro’s Angolan players and give Os Tricolores an edge out wide.

Jaredi- Winger

The most explosive winger in the Petro squad, Jaredi continues to see his status rise in Angolan football after breaking into the national team and featuring at the 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Algeria. While there are several quality wingers in the Petro squad including Anderson Cruz and Brazilian player Gleison, Jaredi is establishing himself as the most dangerous and unpredictable with two goals and six assists so far in Petro’s domestic campaign.

PAF’s Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense: