By Deolu Akingbade.
What To Know
The CAF Confederation Cup bares many similarities to the Europa League and Copa Sudamericana. It traditionally features weaker teams from the top leagues (Botola, Egyptian Premier League) and big teams from small leagues (Zambia Super League, Niger Premier League).
In the Confederation Cup, the winning team can defend their title, unlike in the before-mentioned leagues. It happened this year and in 2020 when Berkane finished outside of Botola’s top two, and in 2018 when Raja finished fourth.
If teams can get past the arduous process of qualifying for the qualifying stages, teams from weaker leagues go straight into the first round of qualifying.
The winners of the first round meet the teams from stronger leagues in the second round, and can finally get to the group stage with a win in the playoff round against the losers of the Champions League second qualifying round.
The team with the most titles is CS Sfaxien, with three.
Despite winning the Confederation Cup in 2022 over Orlando Pirates, RS Berkane will not be back to defend their title after they lost to US Monastir in the playoff round. Their exit coincides with a down season in Botola, where they are currently sixth, one point removed from a place in the Confederation Cup.
The Tunisia pair of Club Africain and Sfaxien, Angolan sides Sagrada Esperanca and 1° de Agosto, South Africa’s Cape Town City, and Zambia’s ZESCO United will also miss out on Confederation Cup action.
Some of the usual Confederation Cup suspects; Egypt’s Al Masry, and Niger’s USGN; all missed out on continental action as well. Last year’s stars; Victorien Adebayor(RS Berkane), Karim Konate(RB Salzburg), Stephane Aziz Ki(Young Africans), and Moses Phiri(Simba SC), all made big moves after starring in the Confederation Cup.
The favorites for the Confederation Cup will likely be one of TP Mazembe, Pyramids FC, or even ASEC Mimosas.
Mazembe is by far the strongest team with the most history, but its ageing core, poor standing in Linafoot (they are fourth at the time of writing), and moderate competition in Group A all raise questions.
Pyramids FC could be the ones to win it, as they have an easy route to the knockout rounds, a great standing in the Egyptian Premier League, and a bonafide star in Ramadan Sobhi. But we do not know how Pyramids stick up against Africa’s giants, as recent losses to Mazembe and Berkane evidence.
ASEC Mimosas are a sleeper pick to take the whole thing, as their steady intake of youth talent and dominance in the Ivorian Ligue 1 means they can surely stun pundits and fans everywhere. But the thing that helps them the most; their skilled youth; could transform into inexperience on the big stage.
Nigerian clubs have not made an appearance continentally since Rivers United featured in the competition in 2021. Rivers United is back, jostling with ASEC Mimosas, Motema Pembe, and Diables Noirs for a rare knockout stage place.
There are credible worries that Rivers United and NPFL are not ready for continental action again, but Nigeria has the talent to stun the world. We could see individual brilliance from an in-form Rivers United side, but this could be a very grim series for the most part. The same goes for Togo’s ASKO Kara and Congo’s Diables Noirs, who seem out of their league against more renowned opposition.
The most underrated Confederation Cup side is Future FC, who are currently fighting with Al Ahly and Pyramids for their first-ever league title. This campaign is their first time in the Confederation Cup, but they still have the talent and skill to punch past their stiff Group C opposition.
Aggressive buying in the mercato exciting prospects on the horizon, and what seems like a wide-open group means that Future could have a wildly successful debut in the Confederation Cup.
Who Could Shine
Some star players to look for include Sankara Karamoko, Sobhi, Zineddine Belaid, and Aimen Mahious.
Karamoko had a goal and an assist in the African Nations Championship while garnering plaudits for his dribbling, ball control, and incisive runs. Sobhi has had stints in Stoke City, Huddersfield, and Al Ahly before winding up in Cairo with Pyramids; he’s one of the most in-demand wingers in Africa thanks to his refined play and goalscoring ability.
Mahious scored five goals with Algeria, while Belaid was impassable on defense, and their good form seems set to continue in the bright lights of the Confederation Cup.
Fixtures To Look Out For
TP Mazembe vs. Young Africans, February 19 and April 2
Mazembe’s two matchups against Young Africans will likely be the most star-studded and competitive match in the Confederation Cup’s group stage. Mazembe disappointingly lost to Vipers SC in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, meaning they had to settle for a Confederations Cup playoff win over South Africa’s Royal AM.
It’s a similar story for Yanga SC, who lost to Al Hilal and narrowly toppled Club Africain to get to the group stage. With players like Stephane Aziz Ki on Yanga and Mazembe’s Tresor Mputu on both sides, the match will surely wow viewers.
USM Alger vs. Marumo Gallants, February 26 and March 8
USM Alger had many players show up at the African Nations Championship, like Golden Boot winner Aimen Mahious and Meziane Bentahar. Despite their evident quality, USM Alger is 15 points off of first in eighth place.
Marumo Gallants, featuring star forward Ranga Chivaviro, are in a similar position, resting in last place in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League as they gear up for Confederation Cup action. The blockbuster matchup will be a turning point in both teams’ seasons.
Motema Pembe vs. ASEC Mimosas, February 12 and March 19
Kinshasa’s historic Stade Tata Raphaël has a lot of history behind it. Muhammad Ali and George Foreman sparred inside it, the 2014 stadium stampede where 14 were killed in a Linafoot match between Mazembe and AS Vita Club and was a key tool of sports washing during the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko.
Now it’s the home stadium of Motema Pembe, a struggling side that has not won national league Linafoot since 2008. It faces its first Confederation Cup group stage match since 2020 against a stacked ASEC Mimosas side featuring Sankara Karamoko and more.
USM Alger (Algeria)
Marumo Gallants (South Africa)
Al Akhdar (Libya)
Saint-Éloi Lupopo (DR Congo)
ASEC Mimosas (Ivory Coast)
Diables Noirs (Congo)
Rivers United (Nigeria)
Motema Pembe (DR Congo)
ASKO Kara (Togo)
TP Mazembe (DR Congo)
US Monastir (Tunisia)
Young Africans (Tanzania)
Real Bamako (Mali)