Holders start semis with tough test

SaturdaySunshine Stars     vs    Al Ahly     15:00SundayTP Mazembe     vs    Esparance     15:30

Sunshine Stars     vs    Al Ahly     15:00
TP Mazembe     vs    Esparance     15:30

LUBUMBASHI - The final matchday of the CAF Champions League group phase saw the already-qualified four-time champions TP Mazembe slump to a 1-0 defeat in Ghana against Berekum Chelsea.

The defeat meant they finished runners-up in Group B behind Egyptian giants Al Ahly, which, in turn, saw them qualify for a semi-final against defending champions Esperance.

The Tunisians were assured of topping Group A after compatriots Etoile du Sahel were disqualified from the competition, and they beat out second place Sunshine Stars.

The Nigerian club, who lost their final group game in Algeria against ASO Chlef, will meet Al Ahly in the semi-finals as the only club left in the competition not to have won it before.

The semi-finals and finals are both two-legged affairs played home and away in October and November respectively. The winner of the tournament qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan at the end of the year.

The two clubs have divided the last three Champions League titles among themselves, with Les Corbeaux (The Crows) from the Democratic Republic of Congo winning in 2009 and 2010.

They were denied a chance to secure a hat-trick of titles when they were disqualified from the competition last season after fielding an improperly registered player.

The rivalry between Mazembe and Esperance in the Champions League dates back to 2001, when both clubs won their home matches in the group stage.

In 2010, Mazembe trounced Esperance 6-1 on aggregate in the final. Against the Blood and Gold, Mazembe coach Lamine N’Diaye will again be looking to his Zambian contingent as well as top scorers Tresor Mputu and Tanzanian Mbwana Samata to provide a win at home.

Other match

Nigerian representatives Sunshine Stars, who have already surpassed expectations by advancing to the last four at their first attempt, have not enjoyed the best of preparations for their game against The Reds.

A dispute over money led to a player strike, which was ended ahead of the game in Ijebu Ode, when officials paid the players some of the money they said was owing.

Although the Egyptian club will go into the two-legged clash as favourites, they have vowed not to underestimate their opponents.

“We watched some of their matches in the Nigerian League and in the African Champions League, and we found them to be very fast. We will have to stop their speed,” said former Al Ahly player Mohamed Youssef, who is now assistant coach.

Al Ahly, who will be without suspended Mohamed Aboutrika, who captained the Egyptian Olympic side in London as one of their over-age players, will probably also be without teenager Mahmoud Hassan.

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