An Egyptian heavyweight, usual suspects and a surprise package – Africa’s biggest club competition returns

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This year’s CAF Champions League quarter-finalists have won Africa’s biggest club competition 23 times between them, with two clubs out to make their mark…

Most people know of Al Ahly’s dominance in the competition, winning it 10 times over the years, while the likes of Espérance de Tunis (four-time winners), Wydad Casablanca and Raja Casablanca (both three-time winners) have all got serious pedigree at the highest level.

In the last eight, though, we have Tanzania’s Simba S.C representing East Africa as they target their first semifinal since back in 1974, and Algeria’s CR Belouizdad who have never got past this stage in their history.

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The stage is set for some fascinating ties with at least two North African former winners to be knocked out, and Southern Africa’s only representatives, the high-flying Mamelodi Sundowns, are desperate to add a second star above their badge, and a first under Rulani Mokwena.

First up, on Friday night, we have JS Kabylie playing host to Esperance in a game that pits Algeria against Tunisia, and there will be no love lost in Algiers.

Considering that Kabylie are in the relegation zone in their domestic league the fact that they’ve got this far is impressive, while their opponents are challenging for a 33rd Tunisian title this season.

Dadi Mouaki is one to watch for the home side, while young Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane is flying in midfield this season and they also have the experience of Alice Badri to call upon for goals as well.

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Saturday afternoon sees Simba face Wydad in possibly the biggest historical mismatch of the round, but the Tanzanians will be full of confidence on their own patch - and have Clatous Chama who can cause problems for anyone on his day.

Wydad, though, have Bouly Sambou leading the line, and his 17 goals in all competitions has been crucial to their challenge on a domestic and continental front.

The most monumental game of the round follows as Ahly face Raja in what is sure to be a huge battle in Cairo, with two CCL heavyweights going toe-to-toe in the Egyptian capital.

To say that Marcelo Koller’s side are in strong form would be an understatement… They’ve won eight of their last 10 games in all competitions, and have both Kahraba and Hussein El Shahat both gunning for the golden boot in this competition. Mohamed Sherif, meanwhile, has five in his last eight.

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AFP via Getty Images

Raja, though, are one of only two teams not to have lost a single game in the group stages en route to the last eight, and their forward, Hamza Khabba, is the competitions top scorer so far. Their away form is sketchy in general, however.

CR Belouizdad go up against a Sundowns side that have already been crowned as champions of the DStv Premiership in South Africa and have lost a grand total of four games across all competitions in 2022/23. They’re the other side that didn’t lose in the group stages.

Mokwena has young Cassius Mailula and the experienced Peter Shalulile on three goals each in the CCL, and their recent domestic form suggests that they’ve already got an eye on making this tournament their priority.

The Algerians may be top of their league after 20 games, and comfortably so too, but they’ve also won just one of their last five games. The last time Masandawana played them on home soil in Algeria resulted in a 5-1 demolition job by the visitors and two of the goalscorers on that day are likely to feature this weekend once again.

Nothing will be decided this weekend, but if some of these clubs perform as they can then it may well be that at least a couple of next weekend’s second legs end up as nothing but a formality.

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