Hussein el Shahat (C) lifts the CAF Champions League trophy after Al Ahly of Egypt beat Wydad Casablanca of Morocco in the 2023 final. (Fadel Senna)
African club giants Al Ahly of Egypt should experience little difficulty reaching the group stage of the CAF Champions League after receiving a favourable qualifying draw on Tuesday.
The Cairo Red Devils, winners of the premier continental competition a record 11 times, will launch their title defence in September against KMKM of Zanzibar or Saint George of Ethiopia.
KMKM made preliminary-round exits in all five previous appearances while the Saints reached the mini-league phase just once in 15 attempts, and then won just one of six matches.
Boosted by a succession of star performances from South African Percy Tau, Ahly defeated Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 3-2 on aggregate in the 2023 title decider.
Tau and Egyptians Mahmoud Kahraba and Hussein el Shahat between them contributed 15 of the 27 goals Ahly scored in a 14-match passage to glory.
Ahly were among 12 winners of the competition included in the 54-club preliminary and last-32 draws, made in Cairo.
Debutants Pyramids, a club transformed by Saudi and Emirati petro dollars, are the other Egyptian representatives and also look good for a place in the groups draw.
They face experienced but limited African campaigners APR of Rwanda or newcomers Gaadiidka of Somalia and success for the Cairo outfit seems almost inevitable.
Egyptian clubs have won the Champions League, and its forerunner the African Cup of Champions Clubs, a record 17 times since the inaugural edition in 1964.
– Wydad bolster squad –
Next come Morocco with seven successes, including three by Wydad, who will expect to overcome once-mighty Hafia of Guinea or academy club Generation Foot of Senegal.
Wydad have bolstered their squad by signing two Algerians — defender Ilyes Chetti from Angers and midfielder Zakaria Draoui from Chabab Belouizdad.
Chetti will hope moving from France to Morocco can improve his tarnished reputation after receiving a four-month suspended sentence this year for touching a woman in a nightclub.
FAR Rabat, who were paired with ASKO Kara of Togo, became the first African champions from Morocco in 1985, but have come close to repeating the feat only once in nine subsequent attempts.
They have hired Tunisian coach Nasreddine Nabi, whose highly successful two-year spell with Young Africans culminated in the Tanzanian club reaching the 2023 CAF Confederation Cup final.
With famed Nwankwo Kanu and Finidi George at the helm, Enyimba want to bring the trophy back to Nigeria for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004.
Former Arsenal forward Kanu has been appointed chairman while ex-Ajax Amsterdam winger George coaches a side based in the southeastern city of Aba.
Enyimba must eliminate Al Ahly Benghazi of Libya, then Coton Sport of Benin or, more likely, former champions ASEC Mimosas of the Ivory Coast to secure a group place.
Remo Stars, competing in Africa for only the second time, are the other Nigerian flag-bearers and will have to beat Medeama of Ghana, then Horoya of Guinea to survive the qualifying phase.
Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa should book an eighth straight group appearance after tackling CS Bendje of Gabon or Bumamuru of Burundi.