It will be north versus south in the Caf Champions League knockout phase with a record $2.5 million - $1 million more than last year - going to the winners. Title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and surprise qualifiers Ferroviario Beira of Mozambique carry the hopes of the south.
They face a powerful six-club challenge from the north, including former champions Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, Al Ahly of Egypt and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.
The two-leg quarter-finals are set for successive weekends in mid-September and here MOTHATI MOTAUNG offers some early clues as to the likely outcomes. have used Tunisia for “home” fixtures, but are likely to host Etoile in another country, possibly Egypt. Key players: Muaid Ellafi (Ahly Tripoli) and Diogo Acosta (Etoile) This clash between two club giants from the north is a “final” being staged two rounds earlier.
The last time they clashed was in the 2012 title decider, surprisingly won by Ahly after they were held at home in the first leg of the final.
Esperance are probably marginal favourites at this stage, but if you fancy a flutter, hedge your bets by putting some money on both the “Blood and Gold” and the “Cairo Red Devils”. Key players: Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance) and Abdallah El Said (Ahly) football over government interference.
Beira should be competitive at home on a substandard pitch they are familiar with against opponents who lost away to modest CAPS United of Zimbabwe during the group stage.
Runners-up two seasons ago, USM are a formidable force at home, however, where their recent victims included Zamalek and Al Ahly Tripoli. Key players: Manuel “Maninho” Fernandes (Ferroviario) and Oussama Darfalou (USM) Sundowns made the last eight despite woeful home form, taking just two points from a possible nine in three group matches. They made up by accumulating seven on the road.
Atteridgeville needs to become a fortress again, as was the case in the 2016 final when five-time champions Zamalek were buried 3-0 before a huge crowd.
Wydad have suffered a double blow with regular scorers Fabrice Ondama from Congo Brazzaville and William Jebor from Liberia leaving the club. Key players: Hlompho Kekana (Sundowns) and Achraf Bencharki (Wydad)