If the current champions, ES Setif, want to become the fourth club - Al Ahly and TP Mazembe have managed the feat twice - to win back-to-back titles, the Algerians have a long road ahead, with the cards heavily stacked against them. With two matches remaining in the CAF Champions League group stage, Setif are third in Group B with four points – eight points behind the already qualified USM Alger and three behind Sudanese club Al Merreikh, who have also won the head-to-head tie with Setif.
It is a fate that club officials have come to terms with and club president Hassan Hammar has taken the responsibility upon himself, saying that it would be wrong to dream or cling to possibilities or calculations and false hope. “I think we are eliminated. I must take responsibility for this failure, just as I was given recognition for winning the cup last year.”
He said that injuries to players like Toufik Zerara and Abdelghani Demou had cost the club. “But I am not justifying why we find ourselves in this situation. There is no justification. The reason lies with us alone why we have been eliminated.”
An open group
But if Group B is all over bar the shouting, the situation in Group A is very different, with all four clubs still in contention. Four-time champions TP Mazembe are certainly in the driving seat, occupying top spot with eight points ahead of their clash in Omdurman against Al Hilal, who are third on goal difference behind Moroccan club Maghreb Tetouan. Both clubs have five points and even Egyptian rookies Smouha, who have just three points are not out of contention.
Mazembe must be the favourites though and as usual, Les Corbeaux have left nothing to chance and arrived in Khartoum a few days ahead of the game to acclimatise, travelling to Sudan on board the clubs' plane. Coach Patrice Carteron will be without Thomas Ulimwengu, who has a knee injury and Kabaso Chongo, who is nursing an ankle. But Rainford Kalaba, Yaw Frimpong and Wonder Bope are all welcomed back after serving suspensions, while Gladson Awako and Ali Sadiki return from injury.
Carteron said on arrival that he regarded the game in Sudan as a turning point for the season. “We have a lot of motivation and even though we currently sit at the top, it is a precarious position as three clubs could be on eight points after these matches. But if we get a result in Sudan, we will be through to the semi-finals.”
Tetouan have staged a solid come-back in the competition since surrendering a 2-0 half-time lead against Smouha in the opening group game, which they lost 3-2. They drew Mazembe and took four from Hilal in two matches and will qualify for the semi-finals if they beat Smouha in Morocco on the weekend and Mazembe win in Sudan.
In Ahmed Jahouh, Tetouan have one of the star players of the group phase in their ranks and there is speculation that he could be joining one of the Casablanca giants (Raja or Wydad) soon.