Tough CAF challenges for Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns
South African giants Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns face thorough examinations this weekend when the CAF Champions League last-32 stage kicks off.
Chiefs host Moroccans Raja Casablanca in Indian Ocean city Durban while Sundowns entertain Democratic Republic of Congo outfit Tout Puissant Mazembe in Pretoria in compelling first-leg attractions.
Neither fixture would be out of place as a final in the premier African club competition, but the luck of the draw means two of the four sides will not even make the last qualifying round.
While South Africa boasts the richest, best organised and most televised national football league on the continent, their clubs have found CAF success difficult to achieve.
Only Orlando Pirates have been African champions while Chiefs won the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup.
Adding a CAF Super Cup success for Pirates gives the republic just three trophies in more than two decades of CAF competition.
Raja were 2013 Club World Cup runners-up to Bayern Munich, have been African champions three times and also lifted the CAF Cup and CAF Super Cup trophies.
That record places the `Green Devils` among the seven most successful clubs in CAF competitions and a 6-2 preliminary-round drubbing of Congolese Diables Noirs serves as a warning to Chiefs.
The South Africans were less impressive when disposing of Botswanans Township Rollers, snatching a stoppage-time 2-1 win at home before grinding out a 1-0 away victory.
But England-born coach Stuart Baxter believes the reputation of Raja can lift his footballers.
"If the players were initially a bit complacent against Rollers, they certainly won`t be against Raja given the quality of their players.
"It is going to be a tricky one, but at least we will be hunters this time and not hunted as was the case against Rollers."
Chiefs have two international-class goalkeepers to choose from in Itumeleng Khune and the younger Brilliant Khuzwayo.
Tefu Mashamaite and Eric Mathoho form a strong central defence partnership, Zimbabwean Willard Katsande provides the midfield steel and Siphiwe Tshabalala the stealth.
However, Chiefs suffer from a long-standing South African problem of poor finishing and Moroccan defences are typically well organised with captain Mohamed Oulhaj marshalling the Raja rearguard.
Recent signing Ighodaro Osaguona from Nigeria scored in both legs against Diables and is rated an exciting prospect.
Sundowns have beaten and held four-time African champions Mazembe in the Champions League and coach Pitso Mosimane is upbeat even if the Lubumbashi side are favoured to win over two legs.
"I believe we have prepared well for the Champions League," he said after brushing aside Seychellois Saint Michel United in the preliminaries.
"It would be nice to have two South African clubs in the semi-finals."
Sundowns find goals easier to come by than Chiefs with two Zimbabweans -- striker Cuthbert Malajila and midfielder Khama Billiat -- in good form.
Mazembe showed their intent to reclaim the Champions League trophy after a four-year absence by signing three of the Ivorian Sewe Sport side that reached the 2014 CAF Confederation Cup final.
Midfielders Christian Kouame and Roger Assale are available for Pretoria, but injury rules out goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo, meaning a likely start for Robert Kidiaba.
The 39-year-old with the trademark ponytail is famous for his goal celebration -- bouncing around the goalmouth on his bottom with both hands flapping.
Title-holders Algerians Entente Setif should not be unduly troubled by Gambian visitors Real Banjul while record eight-time champions Egyptians Al-Ahly probably will be satisfied to avoid defeat at Rwandans APR.
Nigerians Enyimba host the other Egyptian challengers, first-time qualifiers Smouha, and Kenyans Gor Mahia host combative Congo Brazzaville outfit AC Leopards.
Zambians Zesco United have home advantage against Guineans Kaloum, who upset Sewe in the preliminaries, while Ghanaians Asante Kotoko meet Mouloudia El-Eulma in Algeria
A recent armed attack on the bus carrying Nigerians Kano Pillars has resulted in a one-week delay to their away fixture against Moroccans Moghreb Tetouan.