Wydad Casablanca of Morocco begin their Caf Champions League title defence Wednesday with coach Faouzi Benzarti confident of back-to-back successes in the elite African competition.
“There is no reason why we cannot retain the title,” the vastly experienced Tunisian said ahead of a last-32 first leg at home to African rookies Williamsville of the Ivory Coast.
Benzarti, the second most successful coach in Caf club competitions with five titles, drew encouragement from the African Super Cup success of Wydad last month.
The Moroccans dominated the multi-national stars of TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo more convincingly than the 1-0 scoreline suggests.
“It is not easy to succeed against a team of the calibre of Mazembe. That victory has convinced me that we can win the Champions League again this year,” said Benzarti.
France-born Amin Tighazoui, signed after they edged Al Ahly of Egypt 2-1 on aggregate in the 2017 Champions League final, scored the late winner.
Achraf Bencharki, a five-goal pivotal figure in the last Champions League campaign, has moved to Saudi Arabia while Benzarti has kept faith with most of the team.
Williamsville, whose board members include United States-based former Ivory Coast superstar Didier Drogba, upset Stade Malien of Mali in the preliminary round, where Wydad had a bye.
Record eight-time African champions Ahly also start with a home fixture, against Mounana of Gabon, who eliminated Rail Kadiogo of Burkina Faso last month.
Mounana gave Wydad a scare at the same stage of the competition last season, taking the Moroccans to a penalty shootout before bowing out.
Ahly coach Hossam el Badry acknowledged the threat posed by the central Africans, saying: “My assistant (Sayed Mouwad) watched them live in the preliminary round.”
“We got a fright from Wits of South Africa in a round-of-32 tie last year and I do not want a repeat of that start.”
Wydad and Ahly are among 10 winners of the Champions League seeking overall victories and places in the group stage, where prize money starting at $550 000 kicks in.
Mazembe, the second most successful club in Caf competitions after Ahly, should be able to build a comfortable home lead over Songo of Mozambique.
Twice champions Esperance of Tunisia are away to Gor Mahia of Kenya in a repeat of the 1987 African Cup Winners Cup final, surprisingly won by the Nairobi outfit.
Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa, who preceded Wydad as champions, play Rayon Sports in Rwanda.
Al Ahly (EGY) v Mounana (GAB)
Horoya (GUI) v Generation Foot (SEN)
Young Africans (TAN) v Township Rollers (BOT)
Etoile Sahel (TUN) v Plateau Utd (NGR)
Rayon Sports (RWA) v Mamelodi Sundowns (RSA)
Primeiro Agosto(ANG) v Wits (RSA)
Saint George (ETH) v KCCA (UGA)
Zanaco (ZAM) v Mbabane Swallows (SWZ)
Wydad Casablanca (MAR, holders) v Williamsville (CIV)
Aduana Stars (GHA) v Entente Setif (ALG)
MFM (NGR) v Mouloudia Alger (ALG)
Gor Mahia (KEN) v Esperance (TUN)
Port (TOG) v Al Hilal (SUD)
Zesco Utd (ZAM) v ASEC Mimosas (CIV)
TP Mazembe (COD) v Songo (MOZ)
Difaa el Jadida (MAR) v V Club (COD)