CAF Champions League: Group A Preview

Group A of the 2015 Champions League pits traditional contenders Al Hilal and TP Mazembe against clubs whose success has been recent: Moghreb Tetouan (who have spent 34 of their 46 years in Morocco’s second division) and Smouha (who were promoted to the Egyptian Premier League for their first time in history in 2010).

Moghreb Tetouan

Moghreb Tetouan had a tough period after they crashed out in the FIFA Club World Cup last December. They last dozens of points in the Moroccan Botola and did not end up challenging for the title.

Their coach Sergio Lobera spent eight years at Barcelona training youngsters at La Masia. He replaced former coach Aziz el Amri in January and provided a direct approach to a team that has always had enough technical ability, but often lacked tempo due to an abundance of lateral passes in midfield.

Tetouan have been more efficient with him in charge and have managed a few impressive results: They dominated Wydad Casablanca in April, and triumphed in their double-clash against Al Ahly in Champions League qualifying. Unfortunately, their centrepiece, and international striker, Mohsine Iajour has been sold to Qatar SC. Lobera has, however, convinced him to play on last match with Tetouan against Smouha this weekend.

Though they are technically sound and can hold their own, it will be tough for Moghreb Tetouan to advance to the semi-finals without Iajour, who has been so critical to their success.

by Farouk Abdou

Smouha

The club from Alexandria had a hard time in the league while they were progressing in the CAF Champions League and were in the relegation zone. Reaching the group stages of the African Champions League saw the revival of their league form.

Smouha’s star player is Ibrahim Abdel-Khaliq, a central midfielder with a tendency to bomb forward with an eye for goal. Al-Ahly and Zamalek are both keen on signing him, though interest has cooled down as he has stated he’s focused on Smouha until the season finishes. Another key player is Ahmed Shokry, a winger-playmaker who graduated from Al Ahly and has won the tournament playing for the Reds more than once. Their manager, Zamalek legend Helmy Toulan, has won the cup managing the White Knights a couple of years ago.

by Karim Abdul Jawad

Al Hilal 

Regulars at this stage, Al Hilal have reached the group stage phase five times in the last eight years progressing to the semis on 3 occasions. Out of the 4 teams in group A, Al Hilal and TP Mazembe on paper look the strongest and most experienced making them favourites to advance.

Captain Saif Masawi is a key player. The veteran centre-back led Al Hilal to this stage after scoring winning goals home and away versus Sanga Balende in the round of 16. ‘Seed Al Balad’, as they are known back in Khartoum, have also brought in 2 new Brazilian players, Jhulliam and Andrezinho, who Tunisian coach Nabil Kouki will be hoping can make the difference especially in attack where Al Hilal have struggled recently.

The Sudanese side have one of strongest defences in Africa this season with Cameronian keeper Loic Feudjou only conceding 2 goals in 6 preliminary matches. Kouki was hired last March and is so far yet to lose a match with Al Hilal. The Sudanese will be hoping this continues when they visit Lubumbashi on Sunday to take on TP Mazembe in the first group stage encounter.

by Abdul Musa

TP Mazembe

Chasing a continental crown they’ve been missing since their 2010 title,TP Mazembe have never been such favourites in a CAF Champions League edition. On paper, the club owned by Moise Katumbi has unmatchable squad depth (coach Patrice Carteron can field two very competitive XIs) which completes a talented starting line-up that mostly lines up in a 4-3-3.

The main concern could be the lack tactical answers offered by Carteron, which has been seen in the previous Champions League and Confederations Cup campaigns grind to a halt against disciplined opposition. If Carteron manages to erase said problems, Mazembe could go far…very far.

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