4 July 2012

Africa: Another Chelsea Chase Champions League Glory

There could be two teams called Chelsea competing at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan this year if a side from Ghana continue to slay CAF Champions League giants. Berekum Chelsea host Cairo-based Zamalek this weekend in matchday one of the leading African club championship hoping to go all the way and join shock UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea at the December tournament.

Dutch coach Hans van der Pluijm hopes some of the amazing spirit that saw the Stamford Bridge outfit score twice with 10 men in a semi-final against Barcelona at the Camp Nou can rub off on his squad. But he also acknowledges that his young team will begin as Group A outsiders against three of the most successful clubs in CAF competitions, Zamalek, fellow Egyptians Al Ahly and TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ahly have won the Champions League a record six times, Zamalek five times and 2010 Club World Cup runners-up Mazembe four times and the trio share the tag of favourites this year with title holders Esperance of Tunisia. "They are all former champions and we have a lot of respect for them, but we all got to this stage on merit and so we will see how it goes from now on," Van der Pluijm told reporters. "My boys must believe in themselves, they must believe that nothing is impossible no matter how strong the opposition appears to be, and they must not let anyone push them around. "Big names do not win football matches big hearts do and we will give it out best shot. Many people wrote us off after being held at home by Coton Sport and look what happened in Cameroon," added Van der Pluijm. The Dutch handler was referring to a 2-1 final qualifying round victory in Garoua after being held 0-0 at home, which earned Berekum a place among the eight survivors and a minimum $400,000 prize money.

This upset came after two comfortable and anticipated victories over LISCR of Liberian and a shock triumph against three-time African champions Raja Casablanca of Morocco that was born out of a stunning 5-0 home win. Berekum boast the leading 2012 Champions League scorer in six-goal Emmanuel Clottey while Zamalek will be without several players whose goals helped them through three elimination rounds. Former Egypt striker Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam has moved to English second-tier club Barnsley and Benin striker Razak Omotoyossi says he will not return to the cash-strapped 'White Knights' until outstanding salaries are paid. Zamalek also want to ditch talented but troublesome midfielder 'Shikabala', whose touchline outburst after being substituted against Moroccans Moghreb Fes led to the temporary resignation of legendary coach Hassan Shehata.

Ahly must face Mazembe behind closed doors in Cairo. Esperance have fired Swiss coach Michel Decastel and recalled 2011 Champions League-winning handler Nabil Maaloul ahead of a Group B visit to combative Nigerian team Sunshine Stars. Fellow Tunisians and 2007 Champions League winners Etoile Sahel tackle ASO Chlef in Algeria under the guidance of Mondher Kebaier their third coach of the campaign after German Bernd Krauss was fired and Faouzi Benzarti resigned.

The top two clubs in each group after a six-round mini-league schedule advance to the semi-finals and the champions pocket $1.5 million plus an invitation to the even more lucrative Club World Cup.

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