JOHANNESBURG – The 2018 CAF Champions League group phase kicks off this weekend with mega matches in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa among the eight fixtures.
North African giants Al Ahly of Egypt and Esperance of Tunisia clash this Friday followed by TP Mazembe of DR Congo against Entente Setif of Algeria the following day.
Another Saturday showdown, between Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and title-holders Wydad Casablanca of Morocco, is also set to draw a large crowd and global TV audience.
AFP Sport takes a group-by-group look at the matchday 1 fixtures in the premier African club competition with group winners and runners-up advancing to the quarter-finals.
The Ahly-Esperance fixture has been moved from Cairo to Alexandria for security reasons as the Tunisians seek revenge for a 2017 quarter-final loss when the clubs last met.
Record eight-time champions Ahly will miss injured Moroccan striker Walid Azaro and his Nigerian partner Junior Ajayi is doubtful for a match the Egyptian club should win.
Township Rollers of Botswana host Kampala Capital City Authority of Uganda in Gaborone and it is hard to imagine either side challenging Ahly or Esperance for the top two places.
While the outcome of Group A appears clearcut, the same cannot be said of Group B, which is likely to be the toughest of the four mini-leagues to qualify from.
Mazembe have won the competition five times and Setif twice and home advantage should give the Congolese the edge in the intimidating cauldron of Lubumbashi.
But Mouloudia Alger of Algeria and Difaa el Jadida of Morocco, who meet in Algiers, are not without hope having scored 29 goals between them in eight qualifiers.
Sundowns won the 2016 Champions League and were eliminated by highly organised Wydad in the quarter-finals last year after a penalty shootout.
Another tight tussle is on the cards near Pretoria with the South Africans needing maximum points if they hope to finish first and face a theoretically weaker side in the quarter-finals.
A couple of group debutants, Port of Togo and Horoya of Guinea, play in Lome, but neither west-African club are realistic candidates for a top-two finish.
Picking the likely Group D winners is easy with former champions Etoile Sahel of Tunisia the standout side when it comes to strength and experience.
But selecting the other quarter-finalists from Mbabane Swallows of Swaziland, Primeiro Agosto of Angola and Zesco United of Zambia is considerably trickier.
Primeiro are back in the group stage after a 21-year absence and host Etoile in Luanda, while Swallows will be hunting a second Zambian scalp this season when away to Zesco in Ndola.