Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE league champions Caps United were yesterday handed a physically gruelling Total Caf Champions League Group stage draw that will see them travelling more than 36 000km.
Caps were drawn in Group B with five-time Champions League winners Zamalek from Egypt, who are their first opponents on the road, Ahl Ahli Tripoli of Libya and Algeria’s USM Algier. The top two teams will progress to the next stage of the tournament.
Caps will play host to USM Algier of Algeria over the weekend of May 23-24 and will be home again to Ahl Ahli Tripoli the following weekend before flying to Libya on the weekend of June 20-21.
The Green Machine welcome Zamalek at the National Sports Stadium on the weekend of June 30-July 2 and wind up their group matches with an away trip to USM Algier over the weekend of July 7-9.
A trip to Cairo, Egypt, covers 5 340km, while the journey to Tripoli, Libya, is 5 940km and to Algiers, Algeria, it’s 6 740km.
Of all their three opponents, Zamalek will surely be the team to beat, having lifted the title five times. Their maiden title was in 1984, followed by triumphs in 1986, 1993, 1996 and 2002.
Their home ground is the 75 000-seater Cairo International Stadium, but Caps, having shocked all and sundry in the preliminary stages when they knocked out TP Mazembe of DRC, will not be intimidated.
With a seating capacity of 80 000 at their home ground, Ahl Ahli Tripoli have made just three Champions League appearances in their history, bowing out in the first round in 2000 in their maiden appearance before making a return 15 years later in 2015 where they could only go as far as the preliminary rounds. They also qualified last year, but went only as far as the second round.
Algeria’s USM Algier play in a 12 000-seater stadium and have a single appearance in the Champions League where they went all the way to the final which they lost in 2015.
Caps have made three appearances in the tournament, debuting in 1997.
The group matches get underway on May 12.
If Caps United top Group B, they will square up with Group A runners up, but if they are second, then Group A winners await them for a slot in the semi-finals.
Caf Champions League Group Stages draw
Group A: Etoile du Sahel, El Hilal, El Merreikh, Ferroviario Beira
Group B: Zamalek, USM Alger, Ahli Tripoli, Caps United
Group C: Mamelodi Sundowns, Esperance AS Vita, Saint-George
Group D: Al Ahly, Wydad Athletic Club, Coton Sport, Zanaco
Group B fixtures
12-14 May — Zamalek v Caps United, USM Alger v Ahli Tripoli.
23-24 May — Ahli Tripoli v Zamalek, Caps United v USM Alger
2-4 June — Caps United v Ahli Tripoli, Zamalek v USM Alger
20-21 June — Ahli Tripoli v Caps United, USM Alger v Zamalek
7-9 July — Zamalek v Ahli Tripoli, USM Alger v Caps United.