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CAF Champions League: A look at each matchup from the Second Round

The 2023-24 CAF Champions League is in the final round of qualifying for the group stage and there are plenty of interesting matchups as 32 clubs battle it out for 16 spots. Pan-Africa Football takes a look at each duel in the Second Round and we grouped each one into three categories. Read more on each match below, who the favorites are and where the potential surprises may await:

“David versus Goliath”

Al Ahly brought in veteran striker Anthony Modeste from German club Borussia Dortmund to boost their hopes of winning the CAF Champions League. Will the French goal scorer live up to expectations?

Al Ahly (EGY) v Saint George (ETH)

With all due respect to Ethiopian champions Saint George, a very capable side, the Horsemen are up against all the odds when they face defending Champions League winners Al Ahly. Ahly are determined to win every competition they are involved in and the squad was strengthened with the arrivals of Egypt national team midfielder Emam Ashour and talented young Moroccan forward Reda Slim. However the arrival of striker Anthony Modeste, most recently at Borussia Dortmund, may give Ahly the reliable and physically imposing threat up top they are searching for.

Mamelodi Sundowns (RSA) v Bumamuru FC (BDI)

Like Al Ahly, South African titans Mamelodi Sundowns only continue to get stronger with more notable signings including Argentinean playmaker Júnior Mendieta from fellow South African club Stellenbosch and Brazilian forward Lucas Ribeiro Costa from Belgian football. Bumamuru FC of Burundi, a club that was founded nine years ago, did well to challenge Congolese club Diables Noirs and Ethiopia’s Fasil Kenema in the last two editions of the CAF Confederation Cup but have no chance against the highest regarded club in sub-Saharan Africa.

The rich get richer: Mamelodi Sundowns look even more formidable in the attack this season with the additions of Argentinean playmaker Júnior Mendieta (left) and Brazilian forward Lucas Ribeiro Costa (right)

Wydad AC (MAR) v Hafia FC (GUI)

At the moment, Wydad don’t look like a team that is capable of reaching the heights of the side that won both the 2021-22 Champions League and Morocco’s Botola Pro but should progress to the group stage. WAC will face a Hafia FC side that upset Senegal’s Génération Foot in the first round but it is going to be a struggle for the Guinean club despite an excellent history that saw them become African club champions in 1972, 1975 and 1977.

CR Belouizdad (DZA) v Bo Rangers (SLE)

Bo Rangers put up a credible effort last season when they faced Algerian champions CR Belouizdad with a 3-0 aggregate defeat but it will be even more difficult for the Sierra Leone side this season. Following last season’s disappointing decisive defeat to Mamelodi Sundowns in the quarterfinals, CRB have brought in numerous signings to achieve their ambition of a deep run in the competition. Algeria CHAN star Abderrahmane Meziane is in from USM Alger and he joins former Algeria national team regular contributors including goalkeeper Raïs M’Bolhi and midfielder Adlène Guédioura. It may be a bit more lopsided this time around in favor of CRB.

Traditional heavyweights versus eager contenders

Goal scoring defender Vincent Atinga (11 goals in the Ghana Premier League last season) will lead Ghanaian champions Medeama SC against Guinean champions Horoya AC. Medeama will fancy their chances against cash-strapped Horoya who have been unable to replace talented players that have left the club.

Horoya AC (GUI) v Medeama SC (GHA)

To put it kindly, the recent history of Ghanaian clubs in CAF club competitions has been dismal. The last time a club from the country reached the group stage of the Champions League was in 2012 when Berekum Chelsea came just shy of reaching the semifinals. Now Ghanaian football supporters are turning their hopes to surprise 2022-23 Ghana Premier League champions Medeama SC who face Guinean powerhouse Horoya AC.

Horoya are in the midst of a financial crisis that leaves the club depending on young academy products to fill the void left by notable departures of their strongest players that recently includes combative midfielder Fodé Camara. It could not possibly be a better opportunity for Medeama who do not have to go through a North African club like Hearts of Oak have had to do in their recent attempts as Ghana’s representative in the Champions League.

Espérance ST (TUN) v AS Douanes (BFA)

It is surprising to not include Tunisian giants Espérance in the “David v Goliath” section above but this club does not look as imposing as it has in previous years. The departure of important attacking midfielder Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane and other players like Hamdou Elhouni (to Wydad AC) and Fousseny Coulibaly leaves many questions to be answered this season for EST who failed to win the Tunisian Ligue 1 title for the first time since 2015.

AS Douanes will not have the ability to host their home leg in Burkina Faso which is a major obstacle but this club is very capable. The club led by former Burkina Faso national team coach Kamou Malo features a strong attack led by former ASEC Mimosas attacking midfielder Clement Pitroipa and the top scorer of the Burkinabe top division last season, Salif Bagaté. EST will need to be careful in order to avoid exiting the Champions League before the group stage for the first time since 2015 when they lost to Sudan’s Al-Merrikh at this stage.

Tunisia national team defender Yassine Meriah (left) will be the leader of the defense for Espérance ST but his club is going up against a capable AS Douanes team led by former Burkina Faso national team coach Kamou Malo (right).

Simba SC (TZA) v Power Dynamos (ZAM)

Simba are eager to put aside the disappointment of the 2022-23 campaign that saw them finish second to rivals Young Africans in the Ligi Kuu Tanzania Bara and lose on penalty kicks to Wydad AC in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. There are plenty of reinforcements for this season including Cameroonians Che Malone and Willy Essomba as well as Congolese midfielder Fabrice Ngoma from Sudan’s Al-Hilal. Former Simba star Luís Miquissone is back from a failed spell at Egypt’s Al Ahly and former ASEC Mimosas star Aubin Kramo has also arrived.

It has not been productive in recent years for Zambian clubs in CAF competition but Power Dynamos want to produce an upset after navigating past a difficult African Stars side from Namibia. Congolese striker Andy Boyeli, top scorer last season in the Zambia Super League, is the main threat for a strong team that conceded only 19 goals in their 34 league matches last season.

Orlando Pirates (RSA) v Jwaneng Galaxy (BWA)

An intriguing duel between the champions of Botswana and South Africa’s Orlando Pirates appears to be heavily tilted towards the Bucs but hopefully the Soweto club will know the history of Jwaneng Galaxy. Galaxy stunned Simba SC to reach the group stage of the 2021-22 edition of the Champions League and are led by the same architect, South African coach Morena Ramoreboli. Pirates are high on confidence under Spanish coach José Riveiro but this one could be very close if he and his team show any signs of complacency.

Jwaneng Galaxy head coach Morena Ramoreboli, seen here coaching his native South Africa at the 2023 COSAFA Cup, took down Simba SC with Galaxy at this stage in the 2021-22 Champions League and now has South Africa’s Orlando Pirates in his sights.

UD Songo (MOZ) v Petro de Luanda (ANG)

The top clubs from Mozambique and Angola meet in a Lusophone derby to reach the group stage. Songo are back at the top of Mozambican football after claiming last season’s title in the Moçambola and boast a talented team that includes Mozambique national team players like forwards Pachoio Lau King, Dayo António and Mozambique legend Domingues as well as Malawi national team midfielder John Banda.

Petro de Luanda have a strong recent history in the Champions League with a semifinal appearance at the 2021-22 edition, falling to eventual champions Wydad to complete a best-ever performance in Africa’s top club competition. Petro will be the favorites after keeping together a strong team that includes consistent goal scorer Tiago Azulão and rising Angola national team talent Gilberto.

After fourteen years playing with clubs in South Africa, 39-year-old Mozambique national team winger and all-time appearance leader Domingues (left) is back in his native country to try and lead UD Songo to the group stage.

Pyramids FC (EGY) v APR FC (RWA)

Pyramids have spent their way into relevance on the African stage but the Cairo club have yet to find that elusive first trophy. The big spending club face Rwandan champions APR who are in a bit of a crisis at the moment after escaping the threat of a major upset against Somalia’s Gaadiidka last round. APR want to make their mark in African club competition but it appears this will not be their year again considering the club is in poor form at the moment.

Primeiro de Agosto (ANG) v Al-Hilal Omdurman (SDN)

The conflict in Sudan continues to have a major impact on the football clubs in the country but despite the circumstances it appears that top club Al-Hilal Omdurman have remained mostly intact. Brilliant head coach Florent Ibengé remains in charge along with the majority of the talented players he brought to the club, making them a firm favorite to progress to the group stage.

Star from last season Makabi Lilepo is gone to European football while midfielders Fabrice Ngoma and Abdul Ajagun and fullback Imoro Ibrahim are also departed. Senegalese defender Ousmane Diouf is joined by talented Mauritania national team left back Khadim Diaw from Horoya AC and Sudan national team star Mohamed Abdelrahman is always a threat to score in the attack. With several Angola national team players in their ranks, Primeiro de Agosto figure to put up a challenge but lack the star power to overcome Al-Hilal.

Al-Hilal Omdurman’s legendary Congolese head coach, Florent Ibengé, is still at the club despite the circumstances of the conflict in Sudan and makes Hilal a formidable team in the Champions League.

TP Mazembe (COD) v Nyasa Big Bullets (MWI)

TP Mazembe faced immense difficulties last season in the CAF Confederation Cup because of the cancellation of DR Congo’s Linafoot midway through the 2022-23 season, leaving the Ravens without regular matches as they finished last in their group. However domestic football is back in the country and Mazembe have three consecutive victories to begin the season with zero goals conceded.

Mazembe will face the titans of Malawian football, Big Bullets, who continue to produce rising talents who are moving abroad while dominating domestic football. Bullets are well into their domestic season that began in April and are favored to repeat once again as champions of the Malawi Super League, a competition they last failed to win in 2017. While Mazembe will be the favorites, Big Bullets are due for a breakthrough in the Champions League where they have not reached the group stage since 2004.

Matches that could go either way

Can Mauritania national team forward Hemeya Tanjy help FC Nouadhibou qualify to the group stage for the first time in their history?

Étoile du Sahel (TUN) v ASFAR Rabat (MAR)

The most interesting duel of the Second Round, Tunisian champions Étoile meet current Moroccan champions ASFAR. Étoile are back at the top of Tunisian football after a long period in the shadow of rivals Espérance and the club accomplished this by utilizing younger players. Some of those young talents have moved on to bigger clubs (Mohamed Dhaoui to Al Ahly) but leading scorer Oussama Abid remains as well as important veteran players like goalkeeper Ali Jemal and midfield general Hamza Jelassi.

ASFAR also lost a couple of contributors to last season’s surprise run to the Botola Pro title including Reda Slim (also to Al Ahly) and Cape Verde national team central defender Diney Borges. The acquisitions of Ghanaian attacker Bernard Morrison from Young Africans and Togolese striker Ismaïl Ouro-Agoro will help as the Royal Army club attempts to repeat their exploits from last season.

Al Ahly Benghazi (LBY) v ASEC Mimosas (CIV)

An excellent run to the semifinals of the 2022-23 CAF Confederation Cup showed that Ivorian champions ASEC Mimosas can achieve much with the young talent the club continues to produce. However it is difficult for head coach Julien Chevalier because the reputation of ASEC results in talented players leaving every season that the club has to replace through their academy. Central midfielder Mohamed Zoungrana is gone to Algeria, Aubin Kramo is now at Simba SC while fullback Kouassi Attohoula and midfielder Pacôme Zouzoua moved to Young Africans.

The departure of key players on ASEC creates an opportunity for Libyan club Al Ahly Benghazi who just snuck by Nigeria’s Enyimba in the First Round. Al Ahly, runners-up during the 2022-23 Libyan Premier League, have added well known African talent to boost their attempts to reach the group stage and may just be the favorites for this matchup. Former Kaizer Chiefs striker Bonfils-Caleb Bimenyimana of the Burundi national team is joined by Ugandan defender Richard Kassaga as well as former Asante Kotoko midfielder Richard Boadu and former Egypt national team and Zamalek attacker Ahmed Samir on loan from El Gaish.

After a frustrating spell with South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs, towering Burundi national team striker Bonfils-Caleb Bimenyimana is now with Al Ahly Benghazi to try and qualify the Libyan club for the group stage.

Real Bamako (MLI) v FC Nouadhibou (MRT)

Is this the season where Mauritanian champions FC Nouadhibou can make their breakthrough in the Champions League? The club continues to increase their level and overcame Libyan champions Al Ahli Tripoli to reach this stage, giving Le Club Orange a good opportunity to reach the group stage for the first time in their brief history. Mauritania national team star Hemeya Tanjy is the focal point of the team and has plenty of support with national teammates Bodda Mouhsine and Yali Dellahi in the midfield and Senegalese attacker Ousmane Faye.

It will not be easy for Nouadhibou. Malian champions Real Bamako reached the CAF Confederation Cup group stage last season and represent the best of Malian domestic football. The club will be led by head coach Nouhoum Diane who also brought plenty of his foals to the 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN) played earlier this year when he coached Mali at the competition for domestic-based players.

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