African marksmen aim to end goal droughts

CAF Champions League semi-finalists Vita, CS Sfaxien, Entente Setif and TP Mazembe enter the first legs this weekend hoping their leading goal scorers can end barren spells.

Algerians Setif host Congolese Mazembe Saturday and another Congolese club, Vita, have home advantage over Tunisians Sfaxien Sunday.

Sfaxien hit-man Fakhreddine Ben Youssef has gone 619 minutes without a Champions League goal in a spectacular change of fortune.

He scored in all four qualifiers, but could not add to his total in six group games against fellow Tunisians Esperance, Setif and Libyans Al-Ahly Benghazi.

Vita goal-poacher Firmin Ndombe Mubele has suffered almost as long a drought, going goalless for 521 minutes.

The last of his five goals this season came against Egyptians Zamalek in Kinshasa on matchday 1 of the six-round mini-league phase.

Tanzania-born Mbwana Samata has fared slightly better for Mazembe, scoring 388 minutes ago on matchday 2 against Vita. However, that was only his third goal of the campaign.

El-Hedi Belameiri, joint leading Champions League scorer this season with six goals, last found the net 252 minutes ago on matchday 4 against Benghazi.

All the semi-finalists have found goals hard to come by with Setif averaging 1.6, Sfaxien 1.5, Vita 1.2 and Mazembe a meagre 1.1 per match.

What got the clubs to the penultimate phase was tight defences with Mazembe conceding only five goals and Setif and Sfaxien six each in 10 games and Vita nine in 12 outings.

Should Vita and Mazembe succeed over two legs -- the return matches are scheduled for next weekend -- they will create the first one-nation Champions League final.

There have been five previous cases of two semi-finalists from the same nation in the 49 years of the premier African club competition, and they were drawn together three times.

Asante Kotoko won an all-Ghana 1971 clash against Great Olympics, Ahly overcame fellow Egyptians Zamalek in 2005 and Heartland won a Nigerian showdown with Kano Pillars five years ago.

Canon Yaounde won and fellow Cameroonians Union Douala lost when kept apart in the 1980 semi-finals and Etoile Sahel won and fellow Tunisians Esperance lost 10 years ago.

The odds are slightly against an all-Congo climax this year with group winners Sfaxien and Mazembe favoured to squeeze through in pursuit of a $1.5 million (1.2 million euros).

Should they succeed it would be the first time the same clubs reach the final of different CAF club competitions on successive years 

Sfaxien edged Mazembe 3-2 over two legs in the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup final last year with Ben Youssef snatching the decisive goal a minute from time in the return match.

A Sfaxien-Mazembe showdown would also bring together two French coaches -- Philippe `White witchdoctor` Troussier coaches the Tunisians and Patrice Carteron the Congolese.

Bertrand Marchand is the only French coach to lift the Champions League trophy, guiding Etoile Sahel to glory in 2007 with a stunning 3-1 final triumph at Al-Ahly.

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