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African Champions League kicks off with new era

A new era for the African Champions League begins this weekend as a group stage featuring 16 teams kicks off.

There are five matches on Friday, two on Saturday and one Sunday with seven previous champions in action.

Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa continue the defence of their title on Sunday as they host Ethiopia’s Saint George.

Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane says fixture fatigue could threaten their hopes.

Last year they became just the second South African winners of Africa’s top club competition, beating Zamalek of Egypt 3-1 on aggregate in the final.

Mosimane, who played for and coached South Africa, says a fixture pile-up could affect his team.

“The Saint George players are sitting in the stand, resting and watching us,” he said after a midweek domestic match in Pretoria.

“It is not easy fighting on the South African and African fronts. We are playing every three days or so and injuries and suspensions can wreck plans.

African Champions League fixtures:
Group A: Group B:
Fri: Etoile du Sahel v Ferroviario Beira Fri: USM Alger v Al Ahly Tripoli
Fri: Al Hilal v Al Merreikh Fri: Zamalek v CAPS Utd

Group C: Group D:
Fri: Esperance v AS Vita Club Sat: Al Ahly v Zanaco

Sat: Mamelodi Sundowns v St George Sun: Wydad Casablanca v Coton Sport

The 52-year-old also accepts his side Sundowns have lost the element of surprise they enjoyed last year.

“That advantage has gone. Rivals clubs know who we are now and watch us on TV,” he conceded.

“But we are more experienced than last year, have greater quality and depth in our squad, and know what Champions League football is all about.”

Saint George, the first club from Ethiopia to make the group phase, won all four of their qualifiers and five-goal Saladin Said is the leading Champions League scorer this season.

Elsewhere Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel, who are the only club to have won all five present and past continental club competitions, should be too strong for Ferroviario Beira.

The Mozambican club was formed 93 years ago but are competing in the Champions League for the first time.

Eight-time winners Al Ahly of Egypt will be wary of Zanaco having come unstuck against another Zambian club, Zesco United, in the group stage last year, dropping five points.

Another Egyptian side Zamalek, who are five-time winners, host CAPS United of Zimbabwe, whose elimination of former winners TP Mazembe of DR Congo was the shock of the qualifying phase.

The Cairo club are notorious for firing coaches and the latest man at the helm, Portuguese Augusto Inacio, says he will not tolerate interference.

“I will not accept anyone taking decisions for me,” he stressed.

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