Al Merreikh of Sudan and Djoliba of Mali could this weekend become the first qualifiers for the 2012 CAF Confederation Cup semi-finals. Merreikh, the only Sudanese club to win a Pan-African club competition, can clinch a last-four spot from Group A if they win at compatriots Al Ahly Shandy and fellow Omdurman club Al Hilal do not lose at home to InterClube of Angola.
The scenario for Group B pacesetters Djoliba is simpler — a win at Wydad Casablanca of Morocco will assure the Bamako outfit of featuring in the knockout stage of the second-tier competition that offers a US$660,000 first prize.
AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville, the surprise side this season, host 2009 Confederation Cup winners Stade Malien of Mali in the other matchday four fixture with the action spread over three days from today.
Merreikh, winners of the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup in 1989, won 2-0 at home to Ahly two weeks ago in a match marred by post-match stone throwing which hospitalized legendary Egypt goalkeeper Essam Al Hadary.
Ahmed Al Basha claimed his fourth goal to put the match beyond the reach of Ahly, competing in Africa for the first time with the usual Sudanese mix of local and imported talent and coached by Tunisian Mohamed Kouki.
Hilal were held 1-1 in Luanda, Angola, by 2011 Confederation Cup semi-finalists InterClube with Zimbabwe-born striker Edward Sadomba equalizing after Kialunda have nudged the Luanda police team ahead.
However, steamy Omdurman will be less to the liking of the under-performing policemen, who have captured just one point from a possible nine, and any result other than a Hilal victory would be an upset.
Merreikh have seven points, Hilal five, Ahly three and InterClube one halfway through the six-round mini-league phase of a competition dominated by Moroccan clubs recently with FUS Rabat and Moghreb Fes winning the last two editions.
Wydad were runners-up to Esperance of Tunisia in the more challenging CAF Champions League last season and appeared a sound bet to go all the way this year and maintain a record of winning a CAF club competition every 10 years.
However, two draws followed by a stoppage-time loss at Djoliba have left them five points adrift of the leaders and they need maximum points at home to rein in the Malians and boost their own titles chances.