Win or bust for Esperance in Champions League
Star-studded Tunisian club Esperance must win at Algerians Entente Setif this weekend to keep alive slim hopes of reaching the CAF Champions League semi-finals.
The Saturday night matchday 5 showdown at Stade du 8 Mai is a top-versus-bottom Group B clash with Setif having eight points and Esperance just three.
A draw, ordinarily a good result to take away from Algeria, will not be enough for 1994 and 2011 African champions Esperance after three losses in four matches.
But one point would clinch a last-four place for Setif, who were not considered likely semi-finalists ahead of the opening mini-league fixtures three months ago.
The `Black Eagles` of Setif hold a psychological advantage over the `Blood and Gold` of Esperance having won 2-1 in Tunis last May.
Among the Setif scorers was El-Hedi Belameiri, who goes into the return match against Esperance on six goals to be among the leading Champions League scorers this season.
Haythem Jouini netted six times in the qualifiers for the Tunisians, including a hat-trick against Kenyans Gor Mania, but has failed to increase his tally during four group matchdays.
A concern for Setif will be home form because, after shocking Esperance, they could only draw in Algeria with Tunisians CS Sfaxien and Libyans Al-Ahly Benghazi.
Tunis is where the Algerians excel as they returned there two weeks ago and overcame Benghazi 2-0 with Belameiri among the goals.
Benghazi, who shocked defending champions Egyptians Al-Ahly in a final-round qualifier, have been forced to stage home fixtures in Tunisia because of Libyan unrest.
The Libyans are back in the Tunisian capital Friday to face Sfaxien, who will secure a last-four place if they avoid defeat and Esperance do not win 24 hours later.
Sfaxien gained a crucial 1-0 home win over Esperance two weeks ago with Mohamed Ali Moncer striking the winner to give French coach Philippe `White Witchdoctor` Troussier a dream start.
Democratic Republic of Congo outfits TP Mazembe and Vita are setting the pace in Group A and both could secure semi-finals places Sunday.
A home win for four-time African champions Mazembe over struggling Sudanese El-Hilal at Stade Kamalondo in mining city Lubumbashi will ensure they progress.
And if Hilal lose, Vita will also advance provided they do not lose later the same day away to five-time African champions Egyptians Zamalek.
Hilal and Zamalek will have new coaches with Sudanese Al-Tag Mahgoub replacing Brazilian Paulo Campos and Hossam Hassan taking over from fellow Egyptian Ahmed `Mido` Hossam.
The axing of Campos and `Mido` raised to five the number of coaching changes since the group phase kicked off with Troussier succeeding Tunisian Hamadi Daou at Sfaxien.
French coach Sebastien Desabre replaced former Dutch star Ruud Krol at Esperance and Benghazi hired Slovak Josef Vukusic in place of Egyptian Tarek Al-Ashry.
Leading scorers have also been battling to rediscover their form, apart from Belameiri, who has netted in three of four group games.
Fakhreddine Ben Youssef of Sfaxien has gone four matches without a goal, Firmin Ndombe Mubele of Vita three games and Zimbabwe-born Edward Sadomba of Benghazi two games.