A LEAGUE FULL OF CHAM­PI­ONS

Get ready for a new-look, elite-club cham­pi­onship with loads of money

African Independent - - SPORT - MONTHATI MO­TAUNG

TI­TLE-HOLDERS Mamelodi Sun­downs of South Africa are among eight win­ners of the CAF Cham­pi­ons League in the 2017 line-up for the lead­ing African club foot­ball com­pe­ti­tion.

The oth­ers in­clude record eight-time cham­pi­ons Al Ahly and fel­low Egyp­tian team and five-time ti­tle-holders Za­malek. Esper­ance and Etoile Sa­hel of Tu­nisia, TP Mazembe and V Club of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo and Wy­dad Casablanca of Morocco com­plete the list.

The con­tenders for the new US$2.5 mil­lion first prize also in­clude six win­ners of present and past CAF com­pe­ti­tions.

AC Leop­ards of Congo Braz­zav­ille, FUS Ra­bat of Morocco and Stade Malien of Mali have lifted the sec­ond-tier CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup once each.

Al Mer­rikh of Su­dan, Horoya of Guinea and Enugu Rangers of Nige­ria are among the clubs who won the African Cup Win­ners Cup, which was dis­con­tin­ued af­ter the 2003 fi­nal.

An­other Su­danese side, twotime run­ners-up Al Hi­lal, will next year com­pete in the Cham­pi­ons League a record 30th time, twice more than Ahly.

There are nu­mer­ous other clubs well used to the chal­lenges and re­wards of a com­pe­ti­tion first staged in 1964 and won by Oryx Douala of Cameroon.

Esper­ance, Za­malek, Stade Malien and Young Africans of Tan­za­nia will cam­paign for a 22nd time and Mazembe, Mer­rikh and Saint Ge­orge of Ethiopia a 21st time.

At the other end of the scale, Bid­vest Wits of South Africa, JS Saoura of Al­ge­ria, UMS Loum of Cameroon and Wa All Stars of Ghana are among the debu­tants.

Other new­com­ers are Fer­roviario Beira of Mozam­bique, founded 92 years ago in the port city but play­ing in the elite African club com­pe­ti­tion for the first time.

The 2017 Cham­pi­ons League marks the start of a new era with the num­ber of qual­i­fiers for the group stage dou­bling from eight to 16 teams.

A com­pe­ti­tion that has had two groups of four since 1997, when it got a name change and prize money, will now have four minileagues.

Greatly in­creased prize money means the 16 teams who progress past the two-round qual­i­fy­ing phase are guar­an­teed at least US$550 000, even if they fin­ish bot­tom of a group..

Sun­downs pock­eted US$1.5 mil­lion for beat­ing Za­malek 3-1 on ag­gre­gate in the fi­nal last month and next year the cham­pi­ons get $2.5 mil­lion. The run­ners-up prize rises 25 per­cent to $1.25 mil­lion and the los­ing semi-fi­nal­ists bag $875 000 each. Quar­ter-fi­nal­ists take home $650 000 each and third and fourth-place teams in the groups $550 000 each.

A num­ber of teams are sure to be seeded for 2017, in­clud­ing Sun­downs and Za­malek, which re­duces their fix­ture list by two games. TWO EN­TRANTS Al­ge­ria: JS Saoura and USM Al­ger; Cameroon: Co­ton Sport and UMS Loum; Congo Braz­zav­ille: AC Leop­ards and Di­ables Noirs; Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo: TP Mazembe and V Club; Egypt: Al Ahly and Za­malek; Ivory Coast: Sewe Sport and AS Tanda; Mali: Real Ba­mako and Stade Malien; Morocco: FUS Ra­bat and Wy­dad Casablanca; Nige­ria: Enugu Rangers and Rivers Utd; South Africa: Mamelodi Sun­downs (holders) and Bid­vest Wits; Su­dan: Al Hi­lal and Al Mer­rikh; Tu­nisia: Etoile Sa­hel and Esper­ance ONE EN­TRANT An­gola: Primeiro Agosto; Botswana: Town­ship Rollers; Burk­ina Faso: Ka­diogo; Bu­rundi: Vi­tal’O; Cape Verde: Min­de­lense; Chad: Gazelle; Co­moros: Ngaya; Dji­bouti: Tele­com; Equa­to­rial Guinea: Sony Ela Nguema; Ethiopia: Saint Ge­orge; Gabon: Mounana; Gam­bia: Ports Au­thor­ity; Ghana: Wa All Stars; Guinea: Horoya; Kenya: Tusker; Le­sotho: Li­oli; Liberia: Bar­rack Young Con­trollers; Mau­ri­ta­nia: Tevragh Zeine; Mau­ri­tius: Port Louis 2000; Mozam­bique: Fer­roviario Beira; Namibia: United Africa Tigers; Niger: AS FAN; Rwanda: APR; Sene­gal: Goree; So­ma­lia: Be­nadir; Swazi­land: Royal Leop­ard; Tan­za­nia: Young Africans; Uganda: Kam­pala City Coun­cil Au­thor­ity; Zanz­ibar: Zi­mamoto TBA (all one en­trant) Benin, Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Eritrea, Guinea-Bis­sau, Libya, Mada­gas­car, Malawi, Re­union, Sao Tome e Principe, Sey­chelles, Sierra Leone, South Su­dan, Togo, Zam­bia, Zim­babwe CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup “spe­cial­ists” CS Sfax­ien of Tu­nisia are among the en­trants for the 2017 edi­tion of the sec­ond-tier African club foot­ball com­pe­ti­tion.

The team from Mediter­ranean city Sfax have lifted the tro­phy a record three times and are the only side to com­plete a suc­cess­ful de­fence.

In 2007 they de­feated Al Mer­rikh of Su­dan 4-2 away and 1-0 at home to win the com­pe­ti­tion for the first time.

A year later they emerged vic­to­ri­ous again, af­ter a much closer fi­nal against fel­low Tu­nisian out­fit Etoile Sa­hel, win­ning on away goals.

They were ex­pected to com­plete a Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup hat-trick in 2010 but lost to FUS Ra­bat of Morocco lost 3-2 at home and on ag­gre­gate.

Nev­er­the­less, they bounced back to re­claim the ti­tle in 2013 af­ter one of the most dra­matic fi­nals in the 13-year com­pe­ti­tion. They built a 2-0 first-leg lead at home to star-sat­u­rated DRC club TP Mazembe, only to con­ceded two goals be­fore half-time in the sec­ond leg.

The teams re­mained dead­locked at 2-2 on ag­gre­gate un­til the fi­nal minute when Sfax­ien snatched an “away” goal, leav­ing Mazembe the im­pos­si­ble task of scor­ing twice.

Mazembe fi­nally got their hands on the tro­phy this year, over­whelm­ing Mouloudia Be­jaia of Al­ge­ria 4-1 in the re­turn match in Lubum­bashi af­ter a 1-1 first-leg stale­mate.

The Ravens will not be in the 2017 line-up, how­ever, as they won the DRC ti­tle and go into the richer, more pres­ti­gious CAF Cham­pi­ons League in­stead. Were they to lose a fi­nal­round qual­i­fier for the group stage, though, they would be de­moted to the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup, which hap­pened this sea­son.

Sfax­ien are among seven teams in the 2017 line-up who have won a CAF com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing fel­low Tu­nisian side Club Africain, the 1991 African cham­pi­ons.

Other for­mer Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle-holders are JS Kabylie and Mouloudia Al­ger of Al­ge­ria, ASEC Mi­mosas of the Ivory Coast and CARA of Congo Braz­zav­ille.

Kabylie also won the now de­funct CAF Cup three times in a row and ASEC the CAF Su­per Cup once, while Moghreb Fes, the 2011 Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup win­ners, com­plete the list.

Like the Caf Cham­pi­ons League, the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup group stage dou­bles in size next sea­son with four groups of four in­stead of the pre­vi­ous two.

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