Stack of newcomers as CAF Cup kicks off
The CAF Confederation Cup kicks off this weekend with 21 of the 40 preliminary round clubs debuting in the competition.
Six of the two-leg ties pit newcomers against each other, including Ifeanyi Ubah of Nigeria versus Al Masry of Egypt.
Ifeanyi qualified for the second-tier African club competition by winning the Nigerian equivalent of the FA Cup.
Masry finished fourth in the Egyptian title race, but secured a CAF place because cup winners Zamalek are competing in the Champions League.
The tie is the pick of a 20-match schedule featuring only two match-ups between regular African competitors.
Saint-Michel Elgeco Plus of Madagascar with three previous appearances face four-time Confederation Cup competitors SuperSport United of South Africa.
Former Confederation Cup title-holders Moghreb Fes of Morocco, the only other preliminary round entrants with four earlier appearances, host three-time challengers CARA of Congo Brazzaville.
Malagasy sides have a woeful recent record in CAF competitions, making South African league leaders SuperSport firm favourites to progress.
Fes, winners of the 2011 Confederation Cup but now a Moroccan second division side, are expected to eliminate CARA.
The Brazzaville outfit won the African Cup of Champions Clubs — predecessor to the Champions League — in 1973 but are no longer an international force.
Other former African champions in the preliminary round are JS Kabylie and Mouloudia Alger of Algeria.
Kabylie goalkeeper Malik Asselah will hope for better luck in the Confederation Cup than the just completed Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.
Replacing injured Rais Mbolhi after the first match, Asselah conceded two goals each against Tunisia and Senegal as Algeria became shock first-round casualties.
Kabylie have won six African titles, the last in 2002, and should overcome newcomers Monrovia Breweries of Liberia.
Mouloudia, who have not gone further than the first round in three previous attempts, face another debutant, Bechem United of Ghana.
Record three-time title-holders CS Sfaxien of Tunisia are among 12 clubs who received byes into the round of 32.
Like the Champions League, the Confederation Cup will have a new look this season and increased prize money.
The number of qualifying rounds before play-offs against Champions League last-32 losers has been cut to two and the group phase expanded from eight clubs to 16.
Prize money has been given a 170 percent boost, including $1.25 million (1.17 million euros) for the winners and $275,000 for the lowest-placed group finishers.
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