Algerian champions USM last weekend were held to a goalless draw in the Algiers derby by MC and slipped four points behind the leading ES Setif in the Algerian league. With just four matches remaining USM have a mountain to climb if they want to retain their championship and are looking towards the continental title to rescue their season. They secured a 2-1 victory against Guinea's AS Kaloum in the first leg. "We must quickly turn the page of the derby and focus fully on our next appointment in the Champions League, especially since it is a game that looks very hard. The conditions of the match will be difficult and it will be very hot in Guinea. We must prepare to face a team that played very well against us in the first leg,” said veteran German coach Otto Pfister, who took over USM in February.
The defending champions ES Setif, meanwhile, will fancy their chances of a place in the group phase even though they allowed Raja Casablanca to twice come back from a goal down before drawing 2-2 in Morocco, with both Setif goals coming from Mohamed Benyettou. Captain Mourad Delhoum told journalists that he was confident the team will do well. “The international experience we have accumulated recently has had a positive effect on the team. It was no mean feat holding Raja in front of their supporters and we deserved the draw having given an excellent performance. “
North African dominance
The three Algerian teams are not the only clubs from the region looking to advance to the group stage of Africa's premier club competition. Egypt's Smouha and Al Ahly both need to overcome 1-0 away defeats from the first leg. Rookies Smouha were beaten 1-0 by AC Leopards in Congo, while Al Ahly, who have won the competition a record eight times, went down by the same score at Moghreb Tetouan. The Red Devils' goal of adding a ninth star, has been made even more difficult as under-fire coach Juan Garrido, whose side played out a disappointing goalless draw in the Egyptian league on Monday and are 11 points behind leaders Zamalek, will be without two important players. Defender Hussein El-Sayed will be out for three to four weeks with a clavicle injury, while young Nigerian striker Peter Ebimobowei has been ruled out with a hamstring injury.
In the only two matches that do not involve clubs from North Africa, SM Sanga Balende from the DR Congo travel to Khartoum for their match against Al Hilal, having lost at home 1-0, while the other DR Congo side, TP Mazembe, who have won the competition four times, are at home to Stade Malien after a 2-2 draw in the first leg. The final game sees Sudanese club Al-Merrikh travel to Tunisia to defend a 1-0 from the first leg. The eight winners of the ties advance to the group stages of the Champions League, while the losers will compete in the play-off round of the Confederation Cup.