Johannesburg - Title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South
Africa are among eight winners of the CAF Champions League who will compete in
the premier African club competition next season.
The draws for the 2017 preliminary and first rounds are
scheduled to be made in Cairo Wednesday, officials from several national
football associations told AFP.
Only Al Ahly of Egypt, TP Mazembe from the Democratic
Republic of Congo and Enyimba of Nigeria have staged successful defences since
the 1964 launch of the Champions League.
Ahly (2005-2006 and 2012-2013) and Mazembe (1967-1968 and
2009-2010) twice won back-to-back titles.
Enyimba, the only Nigerian outfit to conquer the continent
in the premier club competition, triumphed in 2003 and 2004.
A further eight defending champions reached successive
finals, but had to settle for runners-up prizes.
Record eight-time title-holders Ahly, fellow Egyptian side
Zamalek and Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia are among the teams who will
challenge Sundowns, the second African champions from South Africa after
Mazembe and V Club of DR Congo and Wydad Casablanca of
Morocco complete the list of former winners who have confirmed their
Five-time champions Zamalek were losing finalists this year,
going down 3-1 on aggregate to Sundowns, and Wydad reached the semi-finals.
The other losing 2016 semi-finalists, ZESCO United of
Zambia, failed to qualify and compete in the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup
Other confirmed entrants include three former Confederation
Cup title-holders -- AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville, FUS Rabat of Morocco and
Stade Malien of Mali.
Also read: South Africa's Sundowns win African Champions League
Three winners of the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup, Al
Merrikh of Sudan, Enugu Rangers of Nigeria and Horoya of Guinea, are also in
Sundowns flopped at the FIFA Club World Cup this month,
finishing sixth of seven clubs afer losses to Kashima Antlers of Japan and
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea.
But the Pretoria outfit scored financially, pocketing $1
million after two matches in Japan. They played 14 matches to conquer Africa
and collect $1.5 million.
A huge incentive for Sundowns and the rest of the 2017 field
is increased financial rewards in a new format with first prize increasing by
66.6 percent to $2.5 million.
The runners-up will receive $1.25 million, semi-finalists
$875,000, quarter-finalists $650,000 and the eight group qualifiers who fail to
make the knockout stage $550,000 each.
CAF have cut the two-leg qualifying phase from three rounds
to two and doubled the number of qualifiers for the mini-leagues from eight to
Clubs eliminated at the last-32 stage of qualifying get a
second shot at African glory by dropping to the Confederation Cup, which
star-studded Mazembe won this season.
The precise number of 2017 entrants is unknown with CAF
giving no pre-draw information, not even confirming the date for a secretive
event held behind closed doors.
After some previous qualifying rounds draws, there has been
an unexplained delay of several days before they are released.
While the 54 member states and associates Reunion and
Zanzibar are eligible to enter one or two clubs, depending on previous results,
financial constraints prevent some doing so.
Officials from Libyan outfit Al Ahly Tripoli say they will
be in the draw, despite the likelihood of being unable to host Champions League
matches for a second successive season.
While football is being staged in the North African state,
CAF consider post Moamer Kadhafi era conflict in the country too dangerous to
host international fixtures.
Among the footballers most looking forward to the draw will
be those from Ferroviario Beira of Mozambique, a club formed 92 years ago and
set to make their Champions League debut. For
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