Johannesburg (AFP) – Al Ahly of Egypt will launch an attempt to win the CAF Champions League a record third straight time against either Gendarmerie Nationale of Niger or Le Messager de Ngozi of Burundi in October.
Neither the Niger nor the Burundi champions have progressed beyond the preliminary round in two attempts each and it would be a sensation if either were to eliminate the record nine-time African champions.
The pairing is among 38 in the preliminary and first rounds of the elite African club competition after the draws for 2021-2022 qualifying were made in Cairo on Friday.
By late October 16 clubs will have survived one or two home-and-away ties and booked places in the group stage, where prize money kicks in with qualifiers guaranteed at least 550,000 dollars (465,000 euros).
The Champions League, formerly called the African Cup of Champions Clubs, has been staged every year bar one since 1964, but no club has managed to win three consecutive finals.
After lifting the trophy in 2005 and 2006, an Ahly side including stars like goalkeeper Essam el Hadary, defender Wael Gomaa, midfielder Mohamed Abou Trika and forward Emad Meteb also reached the 2007 final.
But after forcing a goalless away draw in the first leg against Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, they suffered a stunning 3-1 home loss in a packed 73,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium.
Ahly had another chance in 2014 to win the competition three times in a row, but suffered shock away and home losses to Al Ahly Benghazi of Libya in the final qualifying round.
– Personal reason –
TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo (twice), Enyimba of Nigeria and Esperance of Tunisia were other back-to-back champions who could not secure a third straight title.
Apart from wanting to complete a historic treble, South Africa-born Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane has a personal reason for wishing to go all the way and win the single-match final next May.
Before guiding the Cairo Red Devils to success in 2020 and 2021, the 57-year-old won the Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa five years ago.
His three Champions League titles is a record for an African coach and puts him second overall behind four-time winner Manuel Jose from Portugal, all of whose triumphs came with Ahly.
Mosimane has been trying to strengthen his attack and Mozambican Luis Miquissone and South African Percy Tau have been linked with the Egyptian and African giants.
Miquissone caught the attention of the South African when he starred for Simba of Tanzania in a shock group victory over Ahly last season and seems the likelier of the two targets to join the Red Devils.
Tau developed into a star under Mosimane at Sundowns and after several seasons in Belgium is now with English Premier League outfit Brighton, who have registered him for the 2021-2022 season.
Most of the strongest challenges to Ahly could come from fellow north African clubs, particularly Moroccan sides Raja and Wydad, Esperance and Algerian team Entente Setif.