CAFCL Group D Preview: Etoile du Sahel eye summit, Mbabane Swallows target Agosto

The Flying Antelopes’ hopes of reaching the knockout phase of the Caf Confederation Cup now hang in the balance after a horrible home loss

After managing just a point in their opening match following a 1-1 draw with Primeiro de Agosto away in Angola last week, the Tunisian giants have in their sights the control of the group.

Group D is still wide open after Matchday One produced no winner as Zesco also drew 1-1 at home to Mbabane Swallows.

A full set of points backed by a favourable goal-difference would catapult Etoile to the summit, should there be a winner between Swallows and Agosto a day earlier in the Swazi city of Manzini.

The 2007 African champions go into this match with no regular scorer in their strikeforce, relying much on midfielder Hamza Lahmar who top-scored for the club in the just-ended Tunisian Ligue 1 with six goals, five of those came from the penalty spot.

Etoile however take solace in that anyone can score in their side with defender Ammar Jemal saving them in their last Champions League match in Luanda.

What could now be crucial for Etoile’s Algerian coach Kheireddine Madoui and his men is to overcome Sunday’s 4-1 heavy loss to Club Africain in the Tunisian Cup final, a result which could dampen their spirits.

Against that backdrop, they face Zesco who could be inspired by the fact that they managed to avoid defeat in their last two visits to North Africa.They return up north having recorded identical 1-1 draws with Egyptian opponents Al-Ahly and Smouha in the 2016 Champions League and last season’s Confederation Cup respectively.

But Zesco coach George Lwandamina is not reading much into history.

“It won't be an easy game, North African teams have always been problematic to us. But in the recent past, Zesco has done well against them. I just hope and trust that we pick up from where we ended the last time. Every game, which is a fresh game, has opportunities. So it is up to ourselves to see how we best make use of those opportunities,” Lwandamina told Cafonline.

Lwandamina has made three changes to the squad that was held by Mbabane Swallows.

The former Zambia national team coach has dropped Burundi goalkeeper Diuedonne Ntibahezwa for Lameck Nyangu while defender Bornwell Silengo and forward Logic Ching’andu have been sacrificed for linkmen Misheck Chaila and Enock Sabumukama.

On Tuesday at Mavuso Sports Center in Manzini, Mbabane Swallows would want to maintain their unbeaten start when they welcome Angolan champions Primero de Agosto.

After claiming a point in their visit to 2016 semifinalists Zesco United, Swallows established themselves as no pushovers.

Making their maiden Caf Champions League group stage campaign, a defiant Mbabane Swallows coach Thabo Vilakati has laughed off their minnows tag and boldly declared his ambitions to reach the knockout phase.

“We are looking for nothing less than progress beyond the group stage, thus our first home match at this stage is so important. We need a win to boost our chances and that is exactly the spirit among players. They know what a win means and the value it carries and they also know what a defeat will do to chances,” Vilakati told Cafonline.

The past three-seasons has seen most Swallows players failing to enjoy off-season rest due to a hectic schedule of national duty in the past two Cosafa Cup editions and the 2017 Afcon qualifiers, as well as last year’s Caf Confederation Cup participation.

Last Saturday Vilakati afforded a breather to veterans Tony Tsabedze and Wonder Nhleko together with Nigeria defender Stanley Umukoro and midfielder Wonder Nhleko by sitting them out of their 0-0 league match draw with Tambuti.

“Look here, most of these players have never had an off-season rest in the past three years. Having taken our lessons from last season we obviously had to rest them for Tuesday,” said Vilakati.

Having lost 1-0 away at Bidvest Wits in the qualifying round before sailing to the Group stages on penalties, Agosto arrives in Manzini and they are not invincible on the road.

DR Congolese strikers Bakulu Bitumba and Mongo Lumpala Bokamba have been regular scorers for them and could prove to be match-winners for Agosto.