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CAF Champions League 2022/23 Preview

CAF Champions League 2022/23 Preview

By Deolu Akingbade.

Group A

There’s a lot of quality to go around in Group A, from Morocco star Yahya Jabrane to Petro de Luanda (and last season’s Golden Boot winner) Tiago Azulao. AS Vita Club is the X-factor, who can just as easily make it to the finals as they can lose all six group stage matches. JS Kabylie, although usually solid, looks poised to bounce out in the group stage.
Wydad AC
CAF Champions League Titles: 3
Domestic League Titles: 22
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Winners
It’s time for defending champions, Moroccan magicians, and Africa’s champion Wydad Casablanca to reprise their role as winners of the CAF Champions League title. Last year, Wydad stormed to the final thanks to their high-octane offense. Jabrane, Zouhair El Moutaraji, and Guy Mbenza all scored several goals in the tournament. El Moutaraji himself scored a brace against Al Ahly in the final, immortalizing himself among club legends like Fabrice Ondama, Ayoub El Kaabi, and more.
Now, Wydad seems considerably weaker. The sale of Achraf Dari and a handful of recurring players seems to have put the club in a pickle. It rests at third in Botola at the time of writing, only good for a Confederation Cup place. That, combined with the fact that they face a very strong group, could spell disaster.
We know that this Wydad squad is one of the best teams to ever grace an African pitch on paper(a term you might watch me throw around a lot). But can they prove it?
Projection: Runners-up. We could have an African Clasico in the making with Wydad and Al Ahly. Wydad’s grip on the trophy has loosened since they lifted it in the summer, so a strong Al Ahly side could reasonably and easily take it from them in the following final.
Petro de Luanda
CAF Champions League Titles: 0
Domestic League Titles: 16
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Semi-finalists
As we mentioned before, the high-flying, offensively-adept Petro de Luanda of Angola are dark horses to sweep Africa off its feet. They ran all the way to the semis last season, boasting wins over Wydad and Mamelodi Sundowns.
Now with dominant displays in Girabola; they lead the league by six points, and they’ve dominated in qualifying wins over Mozambique’s Black Bulls and South Africa’s Cape Town City. The deadly combination of Azulao and a slew of incoming loanees from Portugal’s Primeira Liga could give Petro Atletico a real breakout season.
They certainly can make a deep run into the latter stages of the tournament, if not win it all, but fears that Petro Atletico’s season was just a fluke are common throughout all Africa. A consistent season and more wizardry from the Angolan offense will banish those thoughts. Look out for Petro Atletico as they look to make a few upsets.
Prediction: Quarter-finalists. Yeah, I did praise Petro de Luanda a lot for their previous season where they knocked off teams like Wydad and Sundowns, held Zamalek to close draws, and wreaked havoc throughout the season. But Petro Atletico can regress this season. I still think Petro de Luanda is the X-factor in this tournament.
JS Kabylie
CAF Champions League Titles: 2
Domestic League Titles: 14
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Did not qualify
Algerian giants JS Kabylie make their return to the Champions League, their first group stage appearance since 2019. Despite a streak of poor results in the Algeria Ligue 1 that has the team facing relegation, Kabylie showed their might with qualifying wins over Senegalese side Casa Sports and Togo’s ASKO Kara.
It’s a classic case of a fallen giant looking to rally one last time before they face an uncertain future. New manager Miloud Hamdi and a squad struggling for consistency will have their work cut out for them in a very competitive group.
Despite their standing in Africa; Kabylie is one of the more well-known sides on the continent; Kabylie will likely face humiliation abroad. If they cannot handle Algerian teams, how will they handle some of the best sides on the continent?
There are way too many questions left unanswered by the squad’s performances, and although the team can rise to the occasion, do not expect much from this team.
Projection: Group Stage Exit. Kabylie is drowning under a sea of losses. The quality of Group A should only push them down deeper.
AS Vita Club
CAF Champions League Titles: 1
Domestic League Titles: 15
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Did not qualify
It’s no surprise that AS Vita Club is one of the most exciting teams to watch in this year’s Champions League.
Despite regularly contending with African giants TP Mazembe in one of the fiercest derbies in the world and winning a Champions League in 1973, AS Vita has not made it to the CAF Champions League proper since getting to the 2014 Champions League final.
But after finishing runners-up to TP Mazembe, AS Vita Club, a team immortalized in history for consistently forging deep runs into the Champions League, finally got back into the group stage. For AS Vita supporters, it was like a bigger, better version of Rangers getting back into the Champions League.
With stars like Patou Ebunga Simbi, Landú, and vetted manager Raoul Shungu, AS Vita can boast one of Africa’s best defenses. A 3-2 win over Gaborone United and a slim 0-0 draw against Rail Club de Kadiogo that Vita won on penalties have reinforced their power in their own half.
But, against strong teams like Wydad, Petro de Luanda, and JS Kabylie, a conservative approach might not work. AS Vita has to show more, both in the domestic league of Linafoot and in the Champions League, to convince.
Projection: Group Stage Exit. The combination of the champions in Wydad, the dark horse in Petro de Luanda, and AS Vita’s inexperience in Africa should make for a tough time abroad.

Group B

Group B has a lot of mighty African giants in Sundowns and Al Ahly. Led by Peter Shaluille and Mohamed El Shenawy respectively, the two should dominate the competition. Don’t be surprised if Coton Sport or Al-Hilal mount a surprise knockout round bid despite its unlikeliness.
Al Ahly
CAF Champions League Titles: 10
Domestic League Titles: 42
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Runners-up
Al Ahly might be the favorites of this year’s CAF Champions League, as is usual with the star-studded Egyptian squad. Outfitted with Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy, Mali midfielder Aliou Dieng, and former Club Brugge attacker Percy Tau, Al Ahly is objectively the team with the best players.
They’ve shown their strength in the Egyptian Premier League, going unbeaten in 13 games play to go top of the league.
They’ve also shown their might abroad with a big win over US Monastir to qualify for the Champions League. But as we know from shock upsets and miracle runs, starpower does not always equal success.
One must wonder whether former Austria boss Marcel Koller(taking over the post of famed coach Pitso Mosimane) has the expertise to lead an African team to glory given his inexperience in the continent, and you have to question the team’s relatively rocky form as of late. And, as evidence shows from last year’s competition where Al Ahly repeatedly came short against Mamelodi Sundowns, they can easily falter against stronger, out-of-town opposition.
They should have an easy time against Sundowns, Al-Hilal, and Coton Sport, but the group is harder to beat than it may seem. Although Al Ahly is the favorite to win the competition, they can just as easily bounce out in the group stage.
Projection: Winners. Al Ahly is a serial winner. Their good track record, starpower, and good form, in general, should carry them all the way into their eleventh Champions League title.
Mamelodi Sundowns
Domestic League Titles: 12
CAF Champions League Titles: 1
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Quarter-finalists
Mamelodi Sundowns, the perennial title-favorites in South Africa and consistent contenders throughout the continents, is one of the most well-known clubs in Africa, only rivaling Al Ahly, the Casablanca clubs, Esperance de Tunis, and a couple others.
The Masandwana is one of the few clubs that can attract talents from across the globe; they have talents hailing from Chile, France, and Bolivia. With their ability to sign the world’s best talent, and Ruhlani Mokwena, a manager that has experience in South Africa’s biggest clubs, nothing is stopping this team from going all the way.
They have the form to back it up; they are eleven points clear in the Premier Soccer League, and they walloped Seychellois side La Passe 15-1.
Namibia’s Peter Shalulile and Chilean midfielder Marcelo Allende are the names to know as they seek to firmly establish themselves on the continental stage. But Sundowns, despite their deep pockets and shimmering stars, have been disappointing.
In the last three editions of the Champions League, Sundowns has lost in the quarter-finals(twice at the hands of bitter rivals Al Ahly). Sundowns definitely needs to continue with their recent form to continue their rise to the top.
Projection: Semi-finalists. Al Ahly has been Sundowns’ kryptonite these last few years, so encountering them in the group stage will not help at all. But otherwise, Sundowns seems primed for another deep run into the competition.
Coton Sport
CAF Champions League Titles: 0
Domestic League Titles: 17
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Did not qualify
The last time Coton Sport secured qualification to a continental cup w in 2021 with the CAF Confederation Cup. To put it briefly, there were thoroughly outclassed. They drew three games and lost the other three in a group that Coton Sport could have won(they faced TP Mazembe, Al Masry, and AS Otoho).
They scored just three goals in their six games, less than Karim Konate’s four goals at ASEC Mimosas in the same amount of games. But with qualifying wins over Lesotho’s Matlama and Kenya’s Royal Leopards, Coton Sport has the power to erase all the bad memories of their woeful Confederation Cup campaign. They look like they can, as they have 17 points in 10 games in Cameroon’s league Elite One.
Coton Sport will miss explosive striker Souaibou Marou, who has signed with Orlando Pirates amid intense interest from Clermont. In his absence, vetted Nigerien striker Kamilou Daouda will likely lead the front line. The ringleader of an explosive attack, manager Aboubakar Souleymanou will have high hopes for a fun-to-watch Coton Sport squad.
Yet, the expertise of Al Ahly and Sundowns could doom them to another forgettable season. The key to success will be whether the Cameroonian club can unlock its attack in front of higher-quality defenders.
Projection: Group Stage Exit. There’s a lot of potential swirling around this Garoua-based team(if they are not picked apart in the summer transfer window), but the experience of Sundowns and Al Ahly should foil Coton Sport FC. Yet, with three or five more years with the same core, we could reasonably be calling Coton Sport contenders for the title.
CAF Champions League Titles: 0
Domestic League Titles: 29
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Eliminated in the group stage
Al-Hilal, based out of Omdurman, Sudan, has not made it out of the group stage of the Champions League since 2015. Consistent contenders in the Sudan Premier League; Al-Hilal are aiming to win their third consecutive league title, but they always come up lacking against bigger fish.
They had a barren run in their last continental conquest, winning just one and drawing one against their bitter rivals Al-Merrikh. But there’s hope based on their form. As of writing, they lead the league by five points. They also won a Sudan Cup recently, cementing their dominance over the rest of the league.
They are led by journeyman attacking midfielder Abdul Ajagun and successful coach Florent Ibenge. Ibenge has experience leading outmatched teams to titles; his success with DR Congo and AS Vita Club is proof. They’ve shown their quality in qualifying wins over Saint George and Young Africans.
But, Al Hilal has consistently underperformed against bigger teams, and there is no reason the trend will end. Surrounded by better teams in Al Ahly, Coton Sport, and Mamelodi Sundowns, one has to expect an early exit.
Projection: Group Stage Exit. There just is not enough quality to make a dent in the top two of Al Ahly and Sundowns. Although Al Hilal can sneak a 1-0 win past any of them with the right amount of luck, it will be tough to catch any of them out. Look out for a lot of big losses.

Group C

This group is wide open, as Raja has struggled this season and the remaining three teams are all equally potent. Although Raja is the favorite to succeed, one of Vipers, Simba, or Horoya could be the one to lead Group C or even end them. Mohamed Nahiri, Clatous Chama, and Milton Karisa will lead this group in quality, and this group will be the one to watch, especially in the later stage when things get very close.
Raja CA
CAF Champions League Titles: 12
Domestic League Titles: 3
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Quarter-finalists
Raja, who looks ready for yet another deep run into the Champions League knockout stages, has quietly assembled one of Africa’s finest rosters. Young midfielder Mohamed Zrida, star wingback Mohamed Nahiri, and more underrated players all comprise one of Morocco’s most lethal squads.
Yet, their recent form betrays their quality. Raja rests at fourth in Botola, or the Moroccan domestic league, rapidly approaching the halfway mark. If the season ended today, they would miss out on continental football.
Regardless, Raja is still a favorite to go a long way in the Champions League. They face Vipers SC, an upstart side in their first Champions League campaign, and Horoya AC, a Guinean side notorious for flopping when it matters most.
Their only real competition may come in the form of a Simba side unproven against bigger teams. Raja needs to put their recent form behind them to not only rally to a respectable season in Botola but to also win their first Champions League title since 1999.
Projection: Quarter-finalists. Group C is all for the taking for Raja, but the quarter-finals could give Raja some trouble. They can easily get to the finals, but my more moderate prediction is that they could crash out of the quarter-finals. All eyes will be on Mondher Kebaier’s side to see if they can defy the expectations.
Simba SC
CAF Champions League Titles: 0
Domestic League Titles: 22
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Eliminated in the first round of Preliminary Qualifying
There are many ways to look at Simba SC’s season. The positive way? They have qualified for the CAF Champions League after wins against Nyasa Big Bullets and 1° de Agosto, making it their first group stage appearance since 2020, where they ran all the way to the quarter-finals of the competition.
They’re second in the Tanzanian Premier League, and they have a real chance of storming to the quarter-finals (or later) in this competition. The bad? They are losing the league to bitter rivals Yanga SC, and they have every chance of bouncing out in the group stage of this competition.
It’s been a mixed season for star attackers Moses Phiri, Clatous Chama, and co., as they prepare to face a wide-open group of Horoya AC, Vipers SC, and Raja Casablanca. Simba SC manager Robertinho (who arrived in Tanzania from Vipers SC) is just weeks into the job. All in all, there’s a lot of optimism around this Simba side. Although the team has not been in the best of form, there’s still time for them to change it ahead of their opening game against Horoya AC.
Projection: Quarter-Finalists. There’s a lot of quality in Simba, and this is a fairly weak group. Although Simba should succeed against Horoya and Vipers, the quarter-finals might be a hurdle Simba cannot clear.
Horoya AC
CAF Champions League Titles: 1
Domestic League Titles: 20
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Eliminated in the group stage
The club of Naby Keïta, Horoya AC will look to break out of their continental slump by surging into the top two of the Champions League and making it to the quarter-finals. They do not have the established players of Al Ahly, Sundowns, or Esperance, but this Guinean club has results. They beat renowned Ivorian power ASEC Mimosas 2-1 to qualify for the Champions League, and they currently lead the Guinée Championnat National by one point.
The problem with considering Horoya AC as dark horses; they have consistently given bigger sides a tough time; is their history of underachievement. There are several unanswered questions that Horoya has left open; the disparity in quality, their recent struggles in Guinea, etc. Overall, we could see either a masterclass from manager Lamine N’Diaye‘s side or another forgettable season.
Projection: Group Stage Exit. Horoya AC underperformed last year in a group of similar quality (Raja, Setif, AmaZulu), and they’ve never been able to beat Africa’s established powers. This group is their best chance of a quarter-finals appearance since they made it to the knockout stages in 2019 (Esperance, Orlando Pirates, FC Platinum).
Vipers SC
CAF Champions League Titles: 0
Domestic League Titles: 5
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Did not qualify
They don’t look ready for the knockout stages yet. Although they have a lot of great talent(Milton Karisu, Marvin Youngman), and they can boast a qualifying win over TP Mazembe, they are very inexperienced against undisputably elite teams. Luckily for the Ugandan side, Group C is very open, so there’s the possibility of a Cinderella run. But I remain firmly pessimistic about this team’s chances.
Projection: Group Stage Exit. This could be a messy time for Vipers, especially as it’s their first time in the Champions League. Crunch matches with Horoya and Simba will decide this group’s fate.


Group D

Group D features three established teams in Esperance, Zamalek, Belouizdad, and an outside-looking-in type of team in Al-Merrikh. This three-horse race for two qualifying spots should get intense, as Ben Romdhane, Zizo, Karim Aribi, and more hunt for glory in this North African-dominated group. Neither of the three should sleep on a quietly lethal Al-Merrikh side.
Esperance de Tunis
CAF Champions League Titles: 4
Domestic League Titles: 32
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Quarter-finalists
Esperance de Tunis is objectively one of the most successful sides in Africa, with an extensive trophy room, a huge fanbase, and many past alumni(Tarak Dhiab, Youssef Msakni, and more) to brag about. Not only that, but they’ve won two of the last five Champions Leagues.
With 14 points from seven league games and a lot of quality to choose from, Esperance can go very deep into the competition. Key midfielder Ben Romdhane, a transfer target of Lyon, Lille, and Lorient, will lead Esperance to victory along with experienced manager Nabil Maâloul.
As we know, Esperance does have the talent and the tactics to go far into the competition, and they are rivaled only by a handful of teams across Africa. But you do have to raise questions about their recent form.
They nearly bounced out of the Champions League in a hard-fought matchup against Nigerian club Plateau United, only saving themselves through the miracle of the away goals rule. Esperance also had an early exit at the hands of Setif last year.
Although Esperance can definitely avoid a similar fate, one cannot help but wonder if a similar exit is on the cards given their recent Champions League performances.
Projection: Semi-finalists. Why not? Esperance has shown they have everything a winner needs on paper; a vetted manager, star players, the history, and the form. But they need to prove their credibility with actual wins on the field, which is where things may reach a gray line. In short, Esperance must be wary of the details.
CAF Champions League Titles: 5
Domestic League Titles: 14
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Eliminated in the group stage
Zamalek had a weird season last year. Despite dominating in the Egyptian Premier League, they bounced out in the group stage of last year’s Champions League. And it may only get harder this season. Trailing league leaders Al Ahly by five points and saddled with a very competitive group, they may suffer another disappointing season.
The talent of skilful winger Zizo and the doggedness of midfielder Emman Ashour will only carry them so far, and the intangibles will decide whether Zamalek rises or falls this campaign.
There is reason to hope, as Zamalek flattened mediocre sides in Elect-Sport and Flambeau de Centre to qualify for the group. But the losses of forward Mostafa Mohamed to Galatasaray and elite midfielder Youssef Obama to Al-Hazem will create uncertainty as they set sail for their sixth Champions League.
Projection: Quarter-finalists. Putting their legendary history aside, Zamalek has not shown enough success to show that they can beat the good sides. We know that Zamalek can win consistently, as they have shown in the Premier League. But can they get wins when it matters most? In my opinion, no.
CR Belouizdad
CAF Champions League Titles: 0
Domestic League Titles: 9
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Quarter-finalists
CR Belouizdad used to be the team that Algeria would make fun of. After falling from glory and legacy, chaos inside the boardroom saw several contractual terminations, squad overhauls, and, most importantly, mediocrity.
After Madar Holding completed a takeover of Belouizdad in 2018, the club has surged to success. They’ve dominated the Algerian Ligue Professionelle 1, winning three straight league titles while also making the quarter-finals of the CAF Champions League two seasons in a row.
With the help of star striker Karim Aribi and manager Nabil Kouki, it seems CRB is set to continue its dominance and enter a golden era.
At the time of writing, Belouizdad is leading the league again, going undefeated with 15 games played. And there is still room for more success. But fans of Les Blancs et Rouges with shaky displays against Sierra Leone’s Bo Rangers and Malian side Djoliba in Champions League qualification.
With Belouizdad going into the Group of Death with Zamalek, Esperance ST, and Al Merrikh, there are unanswered questions on whether Belouizdad can contain their good form. Is CRB’s defense strong enough to handle the vetted strikers of Esperance? Can CRB break through Zamalek’s back line? All these questions are vital as CRB looks to prove its legitimacy among Africa’s best.
Projection: Group Stage Exit. CRB has the quality to go far in the competition, but at the same time, you can’t help but expect a group-stage exit as well. The two CRB-Esperance ST games will be pivotal to how this group turns out.
Al-Merrikh SC
CAF Champions League Titles: 0
Domestic League Titles: 19
2021-22 CAF Champions League Finish: Eliminated in Group Stage
Sudanese side Al-Merrikh will be best remembered for their 2015 CAF Champions League run, where they triumphed over USM Alger and ES Setif in the group stages before heroically bowing out in the knockout round to eventual champions Mazembe. Since then, they have not advanced out of the group stage. In fact, they have had just eight wins in the Champions League, the same amount as their miraculous 2015 run. This Al-Merrikh side could repeat the 2015 feat by toppling Esperance, Belouizdad, or Zamalek. But, the real question is whether they can?
Sure Al-Merrikh may have some top-tier talents(Mohamed Marouene Saidi, Brayan Angulo). But Al Merrikh cannot compete with three North African, consistently-contending teams that will likely wreck Sudan’s most successful side come February. This could be a rough season for Sudan, but there is still room for hope that Al-Merrikh can replicate their 2015 tournament run.