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Stress-free soccer
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 12 - 2018

Record eight-time champions Ahly of Egypt have been placed in a relatively easy group in the African Champions League group stage after the draw was made in Cairo. The Egyptian powerhouse is in Group D with 1973 winners Vita Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Simba SC of Tanzania and newcomers JS Saoura of Algeria. After losing the last two Champions League finals, Ahly are desperate for a ninth title.
The Champions League teams were split into four groups with each club facing their three rivals home and away.
Champions League trophy-holders Esperance of Tunisia will face Horoya of Guinea, Orlando Pirates of South Africa and FC Platinum of Zimbabwe in the 2018-2019 group phase.
Esperance staged a dramatic second-leg fightback in the 2018 final to defeat African champions Ahly 4-3 on aggregate last month. The champions were excused from 2018-2019 qualifying as they were representing Africa at the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, where they ranked fifth.
Horoya staged one of the greatest CAF comebacks to reach the group stage, scoring in the second minute of second-leg stoppage time to pip Libyans Al-Nasr 6-5 overall.
Soweto-based South African club Pirates won the competition in 1995 and were runners-up to Ahly in their last appearance five years ago.
Zimbabwean outfit Platinum from the southern mining town Zvishavane are one of three title contenders who featured in the group draw for the first time.
Recent champions Wydad Casablanca (2017) of Morocco and Mamelodi Sundowns (2016) of South Africa are in Group A with ASEC Mimosas of the Ivory Coast and Lobi Stars of Nigeria.
TP Mazembe, the other DR Congo challengers and five-time CAF champions, were placed in Group C with Club Africain of Tunisia, debutants CS Constantine of Algeria and Ismaili of Egypt. The Congolese have won three of the last 10 Champions League finals while 1991 Champions Club Africain are back in the group phase after a 21-year absence. Ismaili were eliminated at the group stage on their previous Champions League appearance in 2010.
“We are not supposed to say this is an easy group or a tough one. We have to work hard and do our best in order to achieve what we are aiming for. Nothing is taken for granted in football. It is all related to hard work and good preparation,” coach Ahmed Qenawi said after the draw.
The group stage will begin next month after CAF decided to hold the competition over the course of the regular European season instead of playing it in a calendar year, as has always been the case.
Champions League Draw
Group A: Lobi Stars, Wydad Casablanca, ASEC Mimosas, Mamelodi Sundowns
Group B: FC Platinum, Orlando Pirates, Horoya AC, Esperance
Group C: Ismaili, CS Constantine, Club Africain, Mazembe
Group D: JS Saoura, Simba, Vita Club, Ahly
Meanwhile, in the Confederation Cup, Africa's second-tier football club tournament, Egypt's Zamalek, one of the most experienced clubs with nine CAF titles, are to face Moroccan outfit Ittihad Tanger in the play-offs in Cairo.
Zamalek are the third most successful club in the annual African CAF Confederation Cup, however, the last time Zamalek lifted an African trophy was 15 years ago when they won the African Champions League.
Ittihad are among 15 teams demoted to the Confederation Cup from the Champions League, the premier African club competition, after losing round-of-30 ties.
Tunisian sides CS Sfaxien and Etoile Sahel and trophy-holders Raja Casablanca of Morocco are three other clubs in the Confederation play-offs with outstanding pedigrees.
Record three-time Confederation Cup winners Sfaxien drew Ugandan side Vipers SC and look set to win the tie and secure a place in the 16-team group phase.
Raja, whose 11 victories and 34 goals last season were records for a Confederation Cup-winning team, were paired with minnows African Stars from Namibia.
Etoile, twice winners of the Confederation Cup, topped the group draw as they had the highest ranking among the 16 survivors after Confederation Cup qualifying.
Asante Kotoko of Ghana and Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa, clubs who have not won CAF titles for a long time, will play away first.
Kotoko visit Cameroonian club and experienced African campaigners Coton Sport while Chiefs travel to Zambian outfit Zesco United.
Confederation Cup Draw
Gor Mahia (KEN) v New Star (CMR)
Al Ahly Benghazi (LBA) v NA Hussein Dey (ALG)
Al Hilal (SUD) v Mukura Victory (RWA)
Nkana (ZAM) v FC San Pedro (CIV)
Coton Sport (CMR) v Asante Kotoko (GHA)
Zesco Utd (ZAM) v Kaizer Chiefs (RSA)
Stade Malien (MLI) v Petro Atletico (ANG)
Raja Casablanca (MAR, holders) v African Stars (NAM)
Renaissance Berkane (MAR) v ASC Jaraaf (SEN)
CS Sfaxien (TUN) v Vipers SC (UGA)
Zamalek (EGY) v Ittihad Tanger (MAR)
Kampala Capital City Authority (UGA) v AS Otoho (CGO)
Bantu (LES) v Enugu Rangers (NGR)
Al Nasr (LBA) v Salitas (BUR)
Jimma Aba Jifar (ETH) v Hassania Agadir (MAR)

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