The three clubs who have dominated the CAF Champions League recently - Al Ahly of Egypt, Esperance of Tunisia and TP Mazembe of DR Congo -- are among the entrants for the 2013 draw in Cairo Sunday. Title holders Ahly and Mazembe have raised the trophy twice each and Esperance once in the past five seasons of a competition that rewards winners with a $1.5 million cheque and a passport to the even more lucrative FIFA Club World Cup.
Other former champions in the draw include Zamalek of Egypt, Vita Club of DR Congo, Entente Setif of Algeria, Union Douala of Cameroon, Asante Kotoko of Ghana and Orlando Pirates of South Africa. There are also five former winners of other CAF club titles -- CA Bizertin of Tunisia, Enugu Rangers of Nigeria, FUS Rabat of Morocco, Al Merreikh of Sudan and Horoya of Guinea -- among the contenders.
It has been a long wait for Bizertin as their only previous appearance was 28 years ago when the competition was called the African Champions Cup, offered no prize money and was staged on a knock-out basis from start to finish. Now clubs go through a three-round home-and-away qualifying process, with the strongest clubs dodging the preliminary phase, a six-matchday mini-league competition, and two-leg semi-finals and finals.
Ahly defied the odds to conquer Africa a record-stretching seventh time this year, playing six of seven home fixtures behind closed doors and the final with Esperance before a crowd limited to 30,000 because of security concerns. The Cairo Red Devils also had to overcome the severe handicap of no domestic football with competitive games in Egypt suspended since last February after 74 fans died in Port Said rioting following a rare win for local side Al Masry over Ahly. Esperance, winners once and runners-up twice in the past three finals, have compensated for the loss of Cameroonian striker Yannick Ndjeng by signing leading 2012 Champions League scorer Emmanuel Clottey from Ghana outfit Berekum Chelsea. Clottey scored 12 goals, including two hat-tricks, as Berekum reached the mini-league phase. His tally was seven more than Izu Azuka from semi-finalists Sunshine Stars of Nigeria, who is also on the shopping list of the Tunis club.
Mazembe, a mix of Congolese, Zambian, Ugandan and Tanzanian stars, were crowned African champions in 2009 and 2010, kicked out last year for using an ineligible player and made a limp semi-finals exit this season. But Mazembe, Ahly and Esperance will once again be the teams to beat in the Pan-African marathon with the first fixtures usually staged in February and the final in November.
Kotoko and Pirates have much to prove after disastrous showings in their last attempts to recapture former glory with the second of two titles won by the Kumasi club coming in 1983 and Pirates' lone success achieved 17 years ago. Unfashionable Senegalese outfit ASC Linguere dumped Asante in the 2010 preliminary round and Pirates suffered a humiliating home loss to Angolans Recreativo Libolo this year en route to an equally early exit. Apart from the preliminary, first and second round draws for the Champions League and the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup, the group draws for the 2013 CAF youth and junior championship tournaments will also be made.