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CAFCC Semifinal First Leg Preview: ASEC Mimosas (CIV) vs. USM Alger (ALG)

The Stade Bouaké in Ivory Coast will play host to Wednesday’s second semifinal first leg from the CAF Confederation Cup when Ivorian champions ASEC Mimosas host Algeria’s USM Alger. ASEC are in the midst of a busy month with plenty of domestic league matches along with their journey in the Confederation Cup but Les Mimos are in top form and remain undefeated in Ivory Coast’s Ligue 1. USM Alger did excellently to progress past Morocco’s ASFAR in the quarterfinals and expectations are high for a club with plenty of talent who believe they are a favorite to win the competition.

ASEC, led by Frenchman Julien Chevalier as head coach, rested several players for their Ligue 1 victory against Stella Adjame so that important players could be in top condition for Wednesday’s first leg. Chevalier is a former manager of ASEC’s academy and is achieving great success after returning to the club following a spell as an assistant coach with the Togo national team. The club fully believes they are capable of reaching the final, a stage that the club has not reached in CAF club competition since winning the 1998 CAF Champions League. ASEC are hopeful of a large attendance on Wednesday and former club captain Gadji Celi was among the figures encouraging supporters to attend.

Les Mimos are reaching new heights this season because of a strong defense with only four goals allowed across the group stage and the quarterfinals of the Confederation Cup. Goalkeeper Charles Folly continues to impress after returning from national team duty with Ivory Coast at the 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN) earlier this year and is joined by former Elephants central defender Wonlo Coulibaly as reliable presences in the ASEC defense.

Folly and Coulibaly are veterans in a team known for producing excellent young players and central midfielder Mohamed Zoungrana is the star who is drawing interest from top African clubs because of his defensive work deep in the midfield. Aubin Kramo is the main threat to score for ASEC from the wing while Karamoko Sankara is a young forward whose finishing continues to improve.

USM Alger are not enjoying the form that the supporters require in Algeria’s Ligue 1 Professionnelle but “Les Usmistes” are confident they can overcome their Ivorian opponents. Head coach Abdelhak Benchikha had a poor spell with Morocco’s RS Berkane earlier this season but is an experienced coach whose expertise was important in a victory over fellow contenders ASFAR in the semifinals. Benchikha expressed his respect for a difficult opponent in ASEC and said that his players must remain “focused and diligent” without taking too many risks in the first leg.

One player Benchikha will not have in his squad is important attacker Abderrahmane Meziane, who was ruled out for the first leg due to injury. However there are two forwards of excellent quality in the USMA team with Botswana national team star Tumisang Orebonye and Aymen Mahious who led Algeria to the final of the 2022 CHAN with a tournament-leading five goals. The ASEC defense will have to be prepared to defend crosses and set pieces where USMA are strong with several excellent targets for aerial duels. One of the aerial threats, captain and central defender Zineddine Belaid, will lead a highly regarded defense that needs to be ready for the intense heat they will encounter in Ivory Coast on Wednesday.

More on the first leg from Ivorian and Algerian media is in the links below.

L’Asec à l’épreuve de l’USM Alger (Sport-Ivoire.ci)
USMA : Le match de tous les dangers (Compétition.dz)
CAF CC : L’USM Alger se prépare à Bouaké (DZ Foot)

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