22 August 2014

Africa: Battle for Top Spot As Curtain Comes Down

The battle for top spot is the ultimate priority as the curtains on the group phase folds up this weekend.

Though the places for the last four are decided, placement plays a vital role going into the semis as teams seek to position themselves for the final bend of the premier continental club championship.

DR Congo duo, AS Vita and TP Mazembe have wrapped up Group A's ticket for the next phase whereas Maghrebian duo, Entente Setif of Algeria and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia are through from Group B.

There is still a lot to play for especially in the Congolese derby, where sworn rivals AS Vita and Mazembe faceoff on Sunday at the Stade Tata Raphael in Kinshasa.

AS Vita have emerged the surprise packets this term, after sealing a place at the last four for in their maiden appearance at the group phase at the expense perennial participants, Zamalek and Al Hilal, a feat which has seen their coach Florent Ibenge being named head coach of the DR Congo national team.

Though both clubs' places at the next stage is already secured, the bragging rights remains the main 'title' at stake as matches between the two rivals irrespective of the occasion takes centre stage across the length and breadth of the Central African country.

'Les Dauphins Noirs' as AS Vita are nicknamed will be hoping to avenge the lone goal loss in the reverse fixture in Lubumbashi, which Mbwana Samatta's second half strike separated the two sides.

Interestingly, Mazembe stunned their hosts in the last meeting between the two sides at the same venue on 11 May 2014, a game that was marred by a stampede that led to the deaths of dozens of supporters and scores others injured.

That incident remains fresh in the minds of the fans of AS Vita, and the playing body can only win back the trust and confidence for the semis by coming out unscathed against Les Corbeaux.

Mazembe, on the otherhand are taking no chances after holding a training camp in Ndola, a city in neighbouring Zambia. Frenchman Patrice Carteron is convinced his charges are ready for the derby clash after victories over Kabwe Warriors (2-0) and Zesco United (1-0) in test games.

"We have already qualified but we want to finish on a good note. It will be a tough game against the surprise side of this stage, AS Vita, who played a good game against Zamalek.

"We would like to finish on top of our group and add value to our journey. It is necessary at all levels to ensure that our ambitions remain intact," Carteron said.

Both clubs have 10 points with Mazembe on top courtesy superior goals.

In Khartoum on Friday, Al Hilal of Sudan will face Zamalek of Egypt in the other Group A match, that will only serve academic purposes.

At the Taieb Mhiri Stadium in Sfax on Saturday, CSS Sfaxien will lock horns ES Setif of Algeria in a battle for the top spot of Group B. At stake is the right to finish either as winners or runner-up in the group for the last four.

Sfaxien have 10 points, one more than Setif, which remains the only unbeaten side at the group phase.

On Sunday, former winners, Esperance of Tunisia will sort things out with Ahly Benghazi of Libya in the other Group B match in Rades.

Fixtures

Group A

22-08-2014 Al Hilal (Sudan) vs Zamalek (Egypt) 20H00

24-08-2014 AS Vita (DR Congo) vs TP Mazembe (DR Congo) 15H30

Group B

23-08-2014 CS Sfaxien (Tunisia) vs ES Setif (Algeria) 18H00

24-08-2014 Esperance (Tunisia) vs Ahly Benghazi (Libya) 19H00

*All times are in local time

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