Egyptian presence in the Champions League since the introduction of the group phase has long been dominated by Cairo giants Al Ahly and Zamalek, who between them have not only won the competition 13 times, they have been virtually omnipresent since 1997. Al Ahly have represented their country 17 times in the Champions League, while Zamalek can look back at 10 appearances. The only other club to get a look in were Ismaily SC, who participated in 2003 and 2010. Record-holders Al Ahly, who have eight titles, are again one of Egypt's representatives and face Moroccan club Moghreb Tetouan for a place in the group phase. They are joined, surprisingly, by Smouha, who never before competed in the competition and have only spent five years in the Egyptian top flight.
Although Congo DR have had five different clubs representing them in the Champions League since 1997, there has long been a dominance of TP Mazembe (12 appearances), Vita Club (6) and Motema Pembe (8). Four time-winners Mazembe are again in the mix and will fancy to go through to the group phase at the expense of Mali's Stade Malien. Mazembe have a number of Malian players in their side and arrived in Bamako nearly a week before the game. “It will be a very difficult game against a Stade Malien team that rarely loses at home. We are here for a result to ensure qualification," captain Joel Kimwaki said.
Sanga Balende back in the fray
Hoping to escape the shadow of the three dominant Congo DR clubs are SM Sanga Balende, who hail from the third-largest city in the country, Mbuji-Mavi. They needed the away-goal rule to advance against Angolan club Recreativo do Libolo in the preliminary round, but then had fewer problems overcoming Coton Sport from the Cameroon. They now face Sudanese club Al Hilal in the second round. Sanga Balende competed in the competition before the introduction of the group phase and before countries were allowed more than one representative, but their last participation in 1984 ended in disappointment, when they walked off the field during their second round match against FC 105 Libreville in protest against the officiating.
The third team wanting to make inroads into the traditional dominance of three clubs are Champions League rookies MC El Eulma. Defending champions ES Setif (7 times), JS Kabile (6) and USM Alger (6) have had more than their fair share of Champions League appearances for Algeria, and Setif (against Raja Casablanca) and USM Alger (against AS Kaloum) are still in this years' competition.
For Eulma, their game against CS Sfaxien offers them an opportunity to advance to the group phase at their very first attempt. They stunned Ghanaian champions Asante Kotoko in Kumasi with a 2-1 victory in the second round, but will start as underdogs against Sfaxien, who won three CAF Confederations Cups and lost the 2006 Champions League final against Al Ahly. Sfaxien have just appointed former Burkina Faso and Gabon coach Paulo Duarte and the former Uniao Leiria defender is upfront about his side's ambitions. "The CAF Champions League is the dream when you play at the highest level. When you work to win the championship, you are always motivated to win the CAF Champions League. This is the goal of this team." The final match of the second round sees another Tunisian club, Esperance, travel to Sudan for their clash against Al Merrikh.