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CAFCL Quarterfinal First Leg Preview: CR Belouizdad (ALG) vs. Mamelodi Sundowns (RSA)

South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns are looking to shake off a recent downturn in form for the CAF Champions League but Masandawana will face the ambitious champions of Algeria, CR Belouizdad, in Saturday’s first leg quarterfinal clash at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers. After clinching the 2022-23 DStv Premiership with numerous matches to spare, the illustrious attack of Sundowns have only scored two goals in their last four matches with three draws and most recently a Nedbank Cup quarterfinal defeat to Stellenbosch FC. CR Belouizdad have also experienced a dip in form ahead of the clash but are determined to take a step further towards their goal of winning a first-ever continental title.

CRB maintain a hold on top spot in Algeria’s Ligue 1 Professionnelle but are on a three-match winless streak in domestic play and have a few important players who will be unavailable for the first leg on Saturday. Midfielders Zakaria Draoui and Houssem Mrezigue, both important contributors for CRB as well as the Algeria team at the 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN), are likely to be unavailable due to injury giving head coach Nabil Kouki a selection headache. Mrezigue could return from an injury but Draoui as well as defender Mouad Hadded will certainly not play. CRB are coming off a 3-1 defeat to MC Oran in Ligue 1 play earlier this week and Saturday will be the fourth match in thirteen days for Le Grand Chabab.

Kouki will have a reliable defense to count on that includes technically skilled fullbacks Youssef Laouafi on the left flank and Mokhtar Belkhiter on the right. Goalkeeper Alexis Guendouz and the central defensive partnership of Chouaib Keddad and Sofiane Bouchar in front of him ensures the defensive spine of CRB is secure. 21-year-old midfielder Akram Bouras is likely to start in the center of the midfield with Housseyn Selmi, Abderrahmane Bourdim and former JS Kabylie player Ahmed Ait Abdesslem all candidates to move into the eleven of Kouki. The CRB attack is inconsistent at finishing chances but the speed of forwards Anayo Iwuala and Mohamed Belkhir as well as the physicality of Cameroonian striker Leonel Wamba can cause issues.

Much is being made about the struggles of Sundowns in the last couple of weeks and supporters will have nightmares about last season’s surprise exit at the CAF Champions League quarterfinal stage to Angola’s Petro de Luanda. Despite the downturn in form, the Brazilians remain a firm candidate to capture the trophy and head coach Rulani Mokwena has a talented and deep squad to call upon. Mokwena highlighted the occasion where Sundowns will challenge the hosts at a stadium named after South Africa’s most venerated leader and stated his team is ready after making sure to start their trek up to Algiers as soon as possible following the defeat to Stellenbosch on April 15.

The main issue for Mokwena this season is finding the right combination of players in a squad that is incredibly deep. Likely starters up top will be prolific Namibian striker Peter Shalulile and starlet Cassius Mailula, who has tallied six goals in the CAF Champions League so far with three arriving in the group stage. Veteran attacker Themba Zwane should be called upon as well after Mokwena has taken care to not overwork the 33-year-old.

Teboho Mokoena, Neo Maema and South American playmakers Marcelo Allende and Gastón Sirino are creative forces who can provide the necessary service while Mokwena has Khuliso Mudau, Aubrey Modiba and Thapelo Morena to pick from on the flanks. The center of defense is likely the greatest weakness for Sundowns but still capable with an excellent shot stopper behind them in the form of South Africa national team goalkeeper Ronwen Williams.

More on Saturday’s first leg is in the links below.

CRB : Des soucis pour El – Kouki (Competition.dz)
Sundowns fully focused on victory over Belouizdad (Business LIVE)
‘No need to panic over Downs poor form’ (Sowetan LIVE)

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