CAF Champions League semi-finals: Stars to watch
An all-star CAF Champions League semi-finals cast pits Esperance of Tunisia against Al Ahly of Egypt and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco against Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa.
The first legs are set for this Friday in Rades, behind closed doors due to recent crowd trouble, and Saturday in Casablanca with the return matches next weekend in Cairo and Pretoria.
Sundowns were the last sub-Saharan club to lift the trophy, in 2016, and Wydad, Esperance and record 10-time title-holders Ahly have won the premier African club competition twice each since.
If Wydad and Ahly progress, there will be back-to-back finals between the same clubs for the first time since Ahly met Asante Kotoko of Ghana in 1982 and again one season later.
AFP Sport looks at four of the stars who could play vital roles in deciding which teams advance to the two-leg final during June as well as the pedigree of the top nations.
Bouly Sambou of Wydad is the frontrunner to win the Champions League Golden Boot having scored seven goals in his first African campaign with the Moroccan giants.
He shares first place with Fiston Mayele from Young Africans of Tanzania, who have been eliminated, while Sambou can play at least two more matches, and possibly four.
Sambou is typical of so many west African forwards — tall, physically strong, powerful in the air and capable of retaining possession under pressure until support arrives.
Captain Themba Zwane may have scored only two of Sundowns’ 35 goals in 10 matches en route to the semi-finals, but his creativity is a key asset.
A master at keeping possession when surrounded by several rivals, his delicate touches often great space where none appears to exist.
He is the only player set to start against Wydad who was involved in the second leg of the 2016 final, which Sundowns lost 1-0 to Zamalek in Egypt, but finished 3-1 winners on aggregate.
Esperance have reached the penultimate stage despite netting only 10 times in 10 matches — the worst scoring record of the four title contenders.
Four of those goals have come from Mohamed Ali Ben Hammouda, a 24-year-old who often operates as the lone forward in the 5-4-1 formation of coach Nabil Maaloul.
He scored both goals in the quarter-final triumph over Algerian outfit JS Kabylie, with the second in Tunisia a masterclass as he struck the ball into the tightest of far-post spaces.
It was widely forecast that Percy Tau would leave Ahly after fellow South African Pitso Mosimane resigned as coach having lost the 2022 Champions League final to Wydad.
But the winger remained, silenced the doubters and has given a series of superb displays on the right side of midfield as Ahly recovered from a poor start to move within sight of the final.
His two Champions League goals included a special one against former club Sundowns in Pretoria as he sprinted toward goal before unleashing an unstoppable shot from close range.
Esperance and Ahly have clashed three times in the Champions League semi-finals with the Cairo club winning two ties.
Away goals earned Ahly success in 2001 and Esperance in 2010 before a one-sided match-up two years ago saw the Egyptian outfit winning both legs to qualify 4-0 on aggregate.
Wydad and Sundowns have met 10 times, but only once in the semi-finals, with Wydad winning narrowly at home and drawing away to reach the 2019 title decider.