The hosts are big-spending four-time champions, whose home form in the competition is outstanding and who have not lost a Champions League game in the Stade TP Mazembe since October 2009. Their opponents, Al Merreikh's results on the road have been nothing to write home about as they have won just one of six Champions League matches away this year. They also lack the rich Champions League history that Mazembe has.
For several years now, Les Corbeaux have assembled a multi-national squad built to compete at the very highest levels, and coach Patrice Carteron can this season call on internationals from eight countries. The Frenchman, who was not satisfied with his sides' performance in Sudan, is aware that they will have to be at their best if they want to go through to their seventh final. “If we want a chance to qualify, we'll have to go to another level,” he said after the defeat in Omdurman.
Mazembe's Malian midfielder Adama Traore was not surprised that Al Merreikh proved to be such a tough opponent. "The matches of the Champions League are always difficult because the teams are not there by chance, they are champions of each country. If you do not play at your 100 per cent best, it is difficult to win. We will face Al Merreikh with the mentality necessary to win and to qualify.”
The other semi-final sees the second Sudan club remaining in the competition, Al Hilal, with a mountain to climb if they want to qualify for their third continental final. They travel to Algiers for Saturday's game having to overcome a 2-1 home defeat against USM Alger from the first leg. Hilal's Tunisian coach Nabil Kouki can draw some hope from his side's away record this season. They lost in Zanzibar against KMKM in the preliminary round, but then went undefeated in their next five games, drawing four and winning one.
USM though, are very much the in-form team of this years' competition and only a 1-0 defeat in Omdurman against Al Merreikh in their final group game - when they had already been assured of topping the group - prevented them from becoming the first club in the history of the competition to win all six group matches. Their Champions League record prior to this season has not been impressive. Their only other previous appearance in the semi-finals dates back to 2003, when they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Enyimba before losing 2-1 in Nigeria.
Coach Miloud Hamdi has tried to downplay expectations ahead of the return leg. "We have not yet qualified, despite our victory away from home. There is still a second leg to play and both teams have a 50 per cent chance of reaching the final.”
As much as Hamdi is cautious, Al Hilal officials are optimistic. A 35-man delegation, led by club president Ashraf Sid Ahmed, arrived in Algeria on Tuesday already. "We did not deserve to lose the first match given our clear domination, but I trust my players to return from Algiers with a ticket for advancement," said Ahmed. “I am confident that they can turn the tide as my team has proven to be superior to the Algerian opponent. We certainly lost the battle, but we can still win the war."
The winner of the two-legged final will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December.