In two weeks, the First Round of the 2015 CAF Champions League will be played. Thirty-two teams from all around Africa will take part, and we at AFKSports have compiled a slideshow of 12 teams we believe can lift the cup later on in the year.
1. USM Alger
Since multi-millionnaire Ali Haddad bought the club in 2010, USM Alger have been making speedy progress. They won the Algerian Championnat twice in four years and also have a cup win to their name. USMA now have the Champions League in their sights and they have invested heavily to realise this final dream. In buying superstar Youcef Belaili from ES Tunis, Haddad made an emphatic statement. ‘Ouled El Behdja’ can also call on an astounding nine Algerian internationals during the 2015 CAF Champions League campaign.2. ES Setif
Last year’s champions have not spent much money in the transfer market. Keeping the same group of players might promote team chemistry, but this is an aging group that might have needed some rejuvenation. Setif now have the know-how to repeat their 2014 cup run, but it is to be seen if they have the legs for the long campaign ahead. Akram Djahnit and El Hedi Belameiri – who were both nominated for the CAF African Player Of The Year Award – have been retained and will need to replicate their scintillating performances if Fouara are to reach the knockout stages.
3. TP Mazembe
Though Lubumbashi’s finest have failed to bring the Champions League back to southern Congo for several years now, they remain one of the favourites in this competition. The signing of Ivorian international goalkeeper Sylvain Gbouhou was a veritable coup and the returning crux of players like Yaw Frimpong, Salif Coulibaly, Joel Kimwaki, Jean Kasusula, Gladson Awako, Solomon Asante, and Mbwana Samatta will provide Mazembe with the platform necessary to make another ambitious run for the title.
4. Al Ahly
Whenever Al Ahly contest the CAF Champions League it is imperative that they be counted as favourites. The Club of the Century were knocked out of last year’s competition early by underdogs Al Ahly Tripoli. Juan Carlos Garrido nevertheless made lemonade with his lemons, guiding the Cairo club to its first-ever CAF Confederation Cup title. The talent of Walid Soliman, Trezeguet, Saladin Said, Peter Ebimobowei, and Ramadan Sobhi will strike fear into any African side. As always, the Red Devils can also call on a wealth of experience in the form of Emad Moteab, Hossam Ghaly, Mohamed Naguib, and Sherif Ekramy.
5. AC Leopards
It is in large part thanks to AC Leopards that Claude LeRoy had one of the strongest domestic bases in Africa during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Young striker Kader Bidimbou is, arguably, Africa’s hottest commodity. Boris Moubhio, Dimitri Bissiki, Cezair Gandze and Sagesse Babele all clocked game time in Equatorial Guinea, which was an experience that will greatly enrich this AC Leopards side. The valuable addition of Central African Republic midfielder Romaric Linganzi in defensive midfield assures that most clubs visiting Dolisie will go home empty-handed.
6. Raja Casablanca
As they await ratification of the impending five-year suspension of the Moroccan national team, many fans in north west Africa have decided to turn their attention to club football. Raja Casablanca are one of the clubs that benefit from vociferous support, which will help their continental quest monumentally. The Mohamed V stadium holds more than 60 000 supporters, and generates an intimidating atmosphere. An experienced backline of Mohamed Oulhaj, Zakaria El Hachimi and Adel El Karrouchy provide the defensive solidity needed to make an extended run in the tournament.
7. CS Sfaxien
A new-look CS Sfaxien will take the field this year as several key players such as Ferjani Sassi and Dider Ibrahim Ndong have been signed by European clubs. Their departures are massive blows as both have been consistent performers in the CAF Champions League over the years. But Sfax have compensated well in signing AS Vita Club midfield dynamo Lema Mabidi. They can also rely on returning veterans Maher Hannachi, Mohamed Ali Moncer, Rami Jridi, and Ali Maaloul. The Arab Juventus, as they have been affectionately dubbed, will once more be a handful for any opponent.
8. Kaizer Chiefs
After defeating Botswana’s Township Rollers, the Amakhosi face a mighty opponent in Raja Casablanca. Stuart Baxter’s men lead the Absa Premiership by 10 points, and have individuals that can make a difference on the biggest stage. Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Itumeleng Khune and Bernard Parker have World Cup experience, while players like Eric Mathoho or George Lebese are in the prime of their careers and are playing extraordinary football.
9. Asante Kotoko
Asante Kotoko have the unenviable task of travelling to El Eulma in the First Round of the CAF Champions League, where very few teams return with favourable results. Kotoko have two or three talented players to call upon. Ahmed Toure spearheads the attack for the Porcupine Warriors, while midfielder Jordan Opoku has superb passing range. If Kotoko are to progress they will need to sort out their backroom issues – they have fired their coach after nine match days and are now shopping for another.
10. Al Hilal
Two clubs rule Sudan: Al Merreikh and Al Hilal. Al Hilal might be the team with a likelier chance of progressing as they’ve been handed a relatively easier draw, and they made the group stages of the tournament last year. The signing of goalkeeper Loic Feudjou was extremely important. The 22 year-old Cameroonian shot-stopper is a top talent, and is perhaps the final piece of Fatih El Nagr’s defensive puzzle. Captain Saif Masawi is in charge of marshalling matters in defence while Mudathir Karika will shoulder the scoring burden after netting four times in this competition last year.
11. Moghreb Tetouan
Though their outing in 2014 FIFA Club World Cup was less than impressive, Moghreb Tetouan play an attractive brand of football that can hurt many African teams. The spinal column of defender Mourtada Fall, double-pivot pair Abdeladim Khadrouf and Ahmed Jahouh, plus veteran striker Mouhcine Iajour is redoubtable. Tetouan have been drawn with Nigerian giants Kano Pillars, bu
12. Kano PillarsIn November 2014, Kano Pillars won the Nigerian Premier League for the third consecutive year. The club from Kano were undefeated at home for the duration of the campaign. Add to that the fact that no Nigerian team have overcome Kano Pillars at home in the last ten years. Their last defeat at home was on Jun 21, 2003. Domination on one’s own pitch is by no means rare in Africa, but such a run is probably unparalleled. Kano Pillars will need to be just as authoritative at the Sani Abacha stadium if they are to finally win their first ever Champions League title.