When KCCA FC was drawn with eight-time winners Al Ahly and Tunisian giants Esperance in the group of the CAF Champions League on Wednesday night, there was mixed reaction for the champions who made history by becoming the first team from Uganda to qualify for the group stages.
Other debutants Botswana’s Township Rollers complete the cast of Group A. It was a draw that was expected to be tough by any standards with eight former winners.
Mike Mutebi, Head Coach, KCCA said, “it is a very tough draw. We are an emerging force and a young team with an average age of 22. This is the challenge we have been waiting for. Last season, we played against clubs from Egypt (El Masry) and Morocco (FUS Rabat), so we have experience against North African clubs, and we believe that will motivate us. We will be playing against some of the big sides in African football, but we are not scared. We are going to put up a good fight.”
Al Ahly, Esperance renew their rivalry
The draw is largely a favourable one for a powerful Ahly side who were crowned African champions a record eight times.
They were close to landing a ninth title last year, only to fall at the last hurdle after a 2-1 aggregate loss to Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca. En route to the final, Ahly ousted North African rivals Esperance.
In the last eight, the first two-legged knockout tie of the competition, Esperance looked on course of ousting Ahly after holding them to an exciting 2-2 first-leg draw in Alexandria.
However, Ahly gave Esperance a lesson in how to execute deadly counter attacks in the return leg in Rades, coming from behind to earn a remarkable 2-1 win with two second-half goals from Tunisian left-back Ali Maaloul and Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi.
“It’s a balanced draw. The start of the group phase will be tough against Esperance but we will take it one step at a time,” said Ahly’s football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz.
Pedigree at work
With no continental pedigree, Kampala City and Township Rollers will find it hard to tussle with Ahly and two-time winners Esperance for one of the two places which earn qualification for the last eight.
But there’s no understimating the rank outsiders as Ahly’s football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz.
“We must be careful because both ousted strong teams in the previous rounds,” he said.
But the order of games is favourable to KCCA as they begin with fellow debutants Township Rollers away and they have a benefit of the home advantage where they have excelled.
Al Ahly and Esperance will have to cancel each other out in the first game which could give the Ugandans confidence.
The top two in each group will advance to the quarter-finals.
The group phase begins in May and ends in August.
Group A: Township Rollers (Botswana), Al Ahly (Egypt), Esperance (Tunisia), Kampala Capital City Authority (Uganda)
Group B: Mouloudia Alger, Entente Setif (both Algeria), TP Mazembe (DR Congo), Difaa El Jadidi (Morocco)
Group C: Horoya (Guinea), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), AS Togo Port (Togo), Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)
Group D: Primeiro Agosto (Angola), Mbabane Swallows (Swaziland), Etoile Sahel (Tunisia), Zesco United (Zambia)