Moroccan club Renaissance Berkane hope star sharpshooter Ayoub el Kaabi can get them out of trouble this Wednesday in a CAF Confederation Cup play-off second leg.
The nine-goal star of the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) won by hosts Morocco has netted in four of five Confederation Cup matches this season to be joint leading scorer.
Berkane wish that he can add to his four goals as they try to overcome a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Generation Foot of Senegal with a place in the group draw up for grabs.
El Kaabi was unknown outside Morocco before the CHAN, a tournament for footballers playing in their country of birth, but his record goal haul earned him the best player award.
He scored in Dakar for Berkane before a 13-minute hat-trick from Amadou Dia Ndiaye swung the first leg in favour of the Senegalese academy side.
Should Berkane overcome the two-goal arrears, Generation Foot will be the second Senegalese side after Mbour Petite-Cote they have eliminated from the Confederation Cup this season.
Raja Casablanca, the other Moroccan contenders in the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League, are much better off with a 2-0 lead and home advantage over Zanaco of Zambia.
It would be a sensation if the three-time African champions failed to qualify after goals from Mahmoud Benhalib and Zakaria Hadraf in Lusaka left them comfortably positioned.
– Nigerian representatives –
Nigeria have four challengers — the most of any nation — but only two-time African champions Enyimba seem assured of being involved in the group draw this Saturday in Cairo.
They drew 1-1 in South Africa with Wits, whose coach Gavin Hunt has prioritised a domestic league fixture this Sunday over the African assignment.
“We will be leaving a lot of our top players in Johannesburg,” he said, which confirmed Enyimba as favourites to win in Calabar and reach the group stage for the first time.
Hunt has repeatedly disagreed with South Africa journalists who say he does not take African competitions seriously, but he then picks teams packed with reserves for CAF games.
The other three Nigerian hopefuls, Akwa United, Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) and Plateau United, face much tougher tasks.
Akwa host Al Hilal of Sudan in Uyo needing to overcome a 2-0 deficit, MFM trail Djoliba 1-0 ahead of a visit to Mali and Plateau take only a 2-1 lead over USM Alger to Algeria.
MFM coach Fidelis Ilechukwu — known as the Nigerian Mourinho because of his touchline theatrics — believes his side can still make the 16-club mini-league phase.
“The Malians have an advantage, but anything can happen in football,’ he said, probably mindful of the stunning UEFA Champions League comeback by Roma against Barcelona last week.
There are four second legs Tuesday and 12 Wednesday and the overall winners will be divided into four groups at the Cairo draw.
TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo won the Confederation Cup in 2016 and 2017, but have qualified for the CAF Champions League group stage this year.
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