With the draw for the FIFA World Club Cup Japan 2016 having been made, the big prize on offer for the CAF Champions League is edging ever closer for the four remaining clubs in the competition ahead of this weekend's semi-final second legs.
Africa's representatives in the global competition will face the winner of the play-off between the still-to-be-determined J.League champions and Auckland City in the quarter-finals and – should they win – then face the Copa Libertadores winners Club Atletico Nacional from Colombia.
Cairo giants Zamalek will fancy their chances of making it at least to the final as they travel to Morocco defending a 4-0 first-leg lead against Wydad Casablanca, while the other tie between southern African clubs Zesco United and Mamelodi Sundowns remains evenly poised following Zesco's 2-1 win at home in the first leg.
Given the four-goal cushion, Zamalek goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shennawy has already started dreaming of facing Real Madrid in Japan, telling journalists that he would relish the opportunity of facing the European champions, whom they could only play if they went all the way to the final. "The dream of reaching the Club World Cup is now close. The players promised to win the African title as we consider the final game as a life or death mission, whoever the opponent will be. I won one League title and two Egyptian cups so I am missing the CAF Champions League title," he said.
The White Knights have been playing second-fiddle to bitter rivals Al Ahly in Africa for many years and fans are now hoping that they can reach the final for the first time since 2002, when they beat Raja Casablanca for their fifth title.
Wydad go into the return leg with a new coach, having relieved former Real Madrid and Wales coach John Toshack of his position after the 4-0 hammering in Egypt. However, Mohamed Sohail will have to take his players to the biggest-ever semi-final come-back if Wydad are to stay on course for a first appearance at the Club World Cup.
Southern African clash in Pretoria
In Pretoria, Zesco United are attempting to become the first Zambian club since 1990 to make it to the final of the showpiece event of African club football. But while their form at home has been exemplary throughout the campaign – winning five of six matches – their performance on the road has not been as strong although they have lost just twice.
Much of their success can be traced back to their attacking style of play that has seen them score 24 goals – more than any other team in the competition. The goals have been spread throughout the team, with Jesse Were one of three players on four goals.
The Kenyan international, who leads the Zambian scorer charts with 14 goals, said that Sundowns' Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango kept his side in the game and prevented Zesco from scoring more. “He is a very good keeper, solid and assured, a giant frame, without him we would have scored like four.”
Zesco coach George Lwandamina can also call on Clatous Chama, who had to sit out his side's last two Champions League matches due to suspension. The star midfielder has also scored four goals in the campaign.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane saw his side have the ideal preparation as they qualified for the domestic cup final with a 1-0 victory against Chippa United on Wednesday night. The former Bafana Bafana coach changed his side in four places from the side that lost 2-1 in Zambia, resting some of his players ahead of the Champions League game.
Although the away goal in Zambia keeps the tie wide open, Mosimane was not pleased with the result. “Yes we scored a goal away from home, but personally we didn't get what we wanted because we didn't want to lose. A 2-1 defeat for me is not a good result because we lost the match.
“We have to fight at home. The challenge is we must make sure we don't open up and get hit on the counter-attack. You have to try and keep a clean-sheet at home, and you have to score but that is not a guarantee,” he said.