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Cups and cash
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 02 - 06 - 2005

The inter-clubs African draw separated Ahli and Zamalek in the Champions League but placed Ismaili and the Arab Contractors in the same group in the Confederations Cup. Inas Mazhar got team reactions
Africa's top eight clubs will be gunning for a good deal of money and a piece of football history. This year's Champions League promises to be a keenly contested affair as only two of the eight finalists -- South Africa's Ajax Cape Town and Etoile du Sahel from Tunisia -- have yet to win Africa's premier club prize.
Two-time winners Enyimba of Nigeria lead Group A which also includes Egypt's flag bearers Ahli who have twice won the championship, another two-time winner, Raja Casablanca of Morocco, and debutantes Ajax Cape Town.
In the Confederations Cup, which last year replaced both the Cup Winners Cup and the CAF Cup, all eight finalists are entitled to $150,000 for reaching this stage of the competition. King Faisal (Ghana), Fello Star Labe (Guinea), Royal Armed Forces (Morocco) and AS Marsa (Tunisia) are drawn in Group A while in the tougher looking Group B pits Egyptian clubs Arab Contractors and Ismaili against FC 105 from Gabon and Nigeria's Dolphins FC.
Interestingly, none of these teams featured at this stage of the competition last year. Hearts of Oak failed to qualify for the group phase this year.
The draws were conducted on Sunday at the CAF headquarters in Cairo's 6 October City in the presence of CAF first vice president General Seyi Memene of Togo, CAF executive members and club representatives.
The group stage matches for both competitions begin in June. The final match of the Champions League will be played in October while the finals of the Confederations Cup will take place in November.
The two top teams will qualify for the semi-finals which will be played from the weekend of 23 September while the final is billed for between 4 and 20 November.
Besides receiving $1 million in cash prize, the Champions League winner will also represent Africa in the FIFA World Club Championship later this year.
Ahli assistant coach Hossam El-Badri said that the draw had put his club in a very tough group. "However, we will fight as usual. All the teams are tough, even newcomers Ajax Cape Town.
"We have been preparing for almost a year now for this edition of the Champions' League and Ahli are determined to display our best and go to the final rounds," El-Badri said.
The Ahli club coach smiled when told the two Egyptian powerhouses Ahli and Zamalek were close to be drawn in the same group. "I'm glad the two clubs were separated. Ahli and Zamalek clashes have a special flavour. It wouldn't have been good for the fans. I am happy for them now. They will have the chance to support their team playing against foreign opponents. That would give the tournament a special taste," El-Badri said.
Enyimba's executive chairman Felix Anyansi Agwu said he was confident his team was capable of winning a third consecutive title. "Why not? History is on our side. But we know it is not going to be easy this time. It is a tough group but I believe that when you set a target for yourself there is nothing that can prevent you from doing it," said Agwu.
"It's going to be very tough. We believe we can do it; we have the capabilities and the motivation. A third win is achievable," he added. "All of our opponents are tough, Ahli, Ajax and Rajaa of Casablanca. Reaching that far in the competition proves their power and strength."
Enyimba will have an easy start in the competition as they face newcomers Ajax Cape Town in the opening of the group. "We can't say it's an easy beginning because you have to expect anything," Agwu." Enyimba is the target for all other teams. They are preparing themselves against us. We know that we are the target for all teams, the golden fish they are going after, but the mistake comes when they all make us their target and believe that they are going for a lesser team. That won't happen because we will be ready for them.
"Enyimba wants to make history. There are so many incentives and motivation that would push us forward and drive us to winning the competition. We want to become the first African club to win the Champions' League three times in a row and we want to become the first African club to represent the African continent in the FIFA World Clubs Championship."
South Africa's Ajax Cape Town marketing director Ryan Petersen said his club was excited to be playing in African competitions for the first time in their history.
"Obviously all the teams in our group are good and strong. We are joining the defending champions and we are taking them in the opening match of the group. Fortunately we are playing them at home. It is good for us. We believe it is going to be a very hard competition for us as newcomers," Petersen said.
"Every single team is very strong and I believe it's very tough. Probably we are the underdogs of this group. We are playing for the first time in Africa but we are looking forward to it. The club is just five and half years old so our goal is to be playing in Africa well and get a few results and gain experience," he added.
"This is the first time so it is a new experience. We are a new team, we have four players from the Congo who have played in Africa before. They are more experienced than the others we have from the youth development. It was a new experience for them to play in countries like Burkina Faso and Guinea. It was hard for them at the beginning but they are going on and I think it is going to be interesting for them when we have to travel to places like Egypt, Nigeria and Morocco. These are the powerhouses of football in the continent. We are excited and glad to be representing South Africa and hope to do well."
Morocco's Abdel-Hamid Al-Souirir, president of Raja club of Casablanca, said that all Group A clubs were very strong at this stage of the competition. "No club is stronger than the other. It is going to be very hard for us because all the teams in the group are very strong but we will try to do our best and reach the semi-finals. We can't say which team is our toughest opponent but I can say that they are all going to be difficult matches for us," Al-Souirir said.
Al-Souirir revealed that his team would not have enough time to prepare for the Champions League. "The national league season in Morocco is not yet over. We still have four matches to go, and I believe that by the time the national competition ends, we won't have enough time to prepare well."
But Al-Souirir spoke with an air of optimism, saying Raja would still be aiming to win the competition. "Why not? Every team has its chance. We will do our best and hope to become champions."
Group B parades Tunisian clubs Esperance and Etoile as well as Asec Mimosas from the Ivory Coast and Zamalek of Egypt. The often bitter local rivalry between Esperance and Etoile has now been given an international dimension.
The first round of matches in the continent's richest club competition -- $1 million to the winner -- will be played in the weekend of 24, 25 June with Ahli playing host to Rajaa while Enyimba are away to Ajax. In Group B, Asec tackle Zamalek in Abidjan and Esperance take on local rivals Etoile.
Aziz Zoheiri, representative of the Tunisian side Esperance, said that it was good to have two Tunisian clubs playing in the same group. "We are looking forward to it. Sometimes having two clubs from the same country is an advantage. In our case, we are facing rivals Etoile. Etoile is among the top eight teams in Africa and one of the best in Tunisia.
"We are hosting Etoile in Tunisia. Sometimes it is difficult to travel in Africa; it is very hectic and costs a lot. By playing at home we will be saving money and effort and guaranteeing that our fans will be supporting us as well. We will be expecting 60,000 spectators and this is very good income for the club.
"Etoile is known to us and we have beaten them before several times. I think it's been a long time since we didn't lose to them," Zoheiri said.
Zoheiri admitted that Group A was tougher than Group B. "Still, group B can't be described as easy. Our group has Zamalek, a big club with a big history. Assec of Abidjan is a very tough school, so it is a tough group and we have to take each match one by one," Zoheiri said.
He said that the team was fully prepared for the Champions League. "We were in a transitional season. We changed nine players and the head coach. It is a new team but we are prepared. We lost in the semi-finals last year without losing a single match in the whole competition, so why not qualify for the semi-final and even win the Champions League this season? We are looking forward to it."
In the Confederations Cup draw, King Faisal's chief executive George Amoako told Al-Ahram Weekly following the draw that "we now know our opponents. We'll go back home, do our homework and I am sure we will do very well.
"All the group teams are tough teams. We know the Moroccan team which played against a Ghanaian club last year, so we know how they play and it will be difficult, but we will do our best. We don't know about the other teams; we haven't seen them play but we are a good team and will be prepared for the others."
Amoako believed that his club could win the second edition of the Confederations Cup. "We believe we can win, definitely. The final of the competition's first edition was played between two Ghanaian clubs and in our league table we are ahead of these two clubs. We are a good team and we are sure to do very well," he said.
Magdi Mohamed Ali, manager of the Egyptian Arab Contractors who are in Group B, said that the club was looking back to the old days to regain their African glory. "We won the title three times before when the competition was called the Winners Cup. This is our fourth participation and we hope we will win a fourth title," Ali said.
"The Arab Contractors are highly motivated especially after the club qualified for the Premier League of the national league. We will be training abroad and playing some friendly matches in preparation for the African championship," Ali added.
He said it was good to have two Egyptian teams competing in the same group. "Ismaili and Arab Contractors are sort of cousins. We almost have the same fans. It will save us a lot and guarantee that our fans will be supporting us here at home. We want the fans to enjoy watching more matches and therefore we will guarantee that an Egyptian team will have a chance to represent the country in the semi-finals and maybe the finals," Ali said.


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