The newly expanded group phase of the African Champions League, featuring 16 teams this season, kicked off on Friday with a strong start for Tunisian clubs.

Etoile du Sahel, who are the only club to have won all five present and past continental club competitions, proved too strong for debutants Ferroviario Beira of Mozambique, winning 5-0 in Sousse in Group A.

Another Tunisian side, Esperance, began the new era of African Champions League football with a 3-1 win over DR Congo’s AS Vita Club in Rades in Group C.

Also on Friday, USM Alger of Algeria beat Al Ahly Tripoli 3-0 in Algiers in Group B.

African Champions League fixtures:
Group A: Group B:
Fri: Etoile du Sahel 5-0 Ferroviario Beira Fri: USM Alger 3-0 Al Ahly Tripoli
Fri: Al Hilal v Al Merreikh Fri: Zamalek v CAPS Utd
Group C: Group D:
Fri: Esperance 3-1 AS Vita Club Sat: Al Ahly v Zanaco
Sat: Mamelodi Sundowns v St George Sun: Wydad Casablanca v Coton Sport
In other matches, this weekend, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa continue the defence of their title on Sunday as they host Ethiopia’s, Saint George.

Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane says fixture fatigue could threaten their hopes.

Last year they became just the second South African winners of Africa’s top club competition, beating Zamalek of Egypt 3-1 on aggregate in the final.

Mosimane, who played for and coached South Africa, says a fixture pile-up could affect his team.

“The Saint George players are sitting in the stand, resting and watching us,” he said after a midweek domestic match in Pretoria.

“It is not easy fighting on the South African and African fronts. We are playing every three days or so and injuries and suspensions can wreck plans.The 52-year-old also accepts his side Sundowns have lost the element of surprise they enjoyed last year.

“That advantage has gone. Rivals clubs know who we are now and watch us on TV,” he conceded.

“But we are more experienced than last year, have greater quality and depth in our squad, and know what Champions League football is all about.”

Saint George, the first club from Ethiopia to make the group phase, won all four of their qualifiers and five-goal Saladin Said is the leading Champions League scorer this season.

Eight-time winners Al Ahly of Egypt will be wary of Zanaco having come unstuck against another Zambian club, Zesco United, in the group stage last year, dropping five points.

On Friday night, another Egyptian side Zamalek, who are five-time winners, host CAPS United of Zimbabwe, whose elimination of former winners TP Mazembe of DR Congo was the shock of the qualifying phase.

The Cairo club are notorious for firing coaches and the latest man at the helm, Portuguese Augusto Inacio, says he will not tolerate interference.

“I will not accept anyone taking decisions for me,” he stressed.

BBC

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