CAF Champions League weekend preview

Al Merreikh goalkeeper Jamal Salim picks the ball out of his net after conceding against Al Hilal Tayeb Afarah/BackpagePix

The conclusion of the first extended CAF Champions League group stage is rapidly approaching, and after this weekend's fixtures the quarterfinal line-up should be a whole lot clearer.

It's been an exciting ride so far, but as various African giants are being forced to face up to elimination, expect another thrilling game week across the continent.

Tunisian giants Etoile du Sahel - African champions in 2007 - began their Champions League campaign with a 5-0 demolition of competition new boys Ferroviario Beira, and can secure their spot in the quarterfinals if they avoid defeat against the same opponents away on Saturday.

The Mozambican new boys have held their own during their competition debut, winning at home against Al-Merreikh and holding Al-Hilal to a scoreless draw, but they'll be desperate to capitalise in their final home game in order to stand a fighting chance of prolonging their adventure.

In the group's other fixture, get ready for a testy Omdurman derby between the two Sudanese heavyweights. There was nothing to separate the pair when they met in mid-May, when Azeez Shobowale's opener was cancelled out by Elsamani Saadeldin's 61st-minut effort, but one of the pair - both of whom are on four points - will surely miss out on the knockouts.

Expect one of the more intriguing culture clashes in the competition when CAPS United host Zamalek SC at the National Sports Stadium in Harare.

The Zimbabweans may have lost their last two matches - conceding eight goals in the process - but have been one of the more entertaining sides in this year's competition. They can't match Zamalek for nous and big-match experience, but the Egyptian giants have been unconvincing and haven't won since their opening day 2-0 triumph over the Green Machine.

In the other fixture, USM Alger lead the group on seven points, and will confirm their spot in the next round with a win against Al-Ahli Tripoli.

The match will be played in neutral Tunisia, although the Libyans have taken seven points from their last three matches, and cannot be underestimated.

Congolese heavyweights AS Vita Club started their Champions League campaign with three consecutive defeats and appeared to be heading for an early exit before defeating Saint George at home last week.

If their eye-catching renaissance is set to continue, they'll need an even bigger performance in Kinshasa against Esperance de Tunis - the group's outstanding team - on Saturday.

Vita Club can take some encouragement from the fact that Esperance have, on occasion, found it hard to break teams down during the group stage, and were held at home in a goalless stalemate by Mamelodi Sundowns, while also failing to net in a 0-0 draw in Addis Ababa in mid-May.

It's Downs' turn to travel to Ethiopia this weekend, and after failing to win in their last two games, Pitso Mosimane's reigning champions may find themselves under pressure to perform.

"You've got to be clever and see the bigger picture, and progress slowly until the six games finish," Mosimane told journalists after their last stalemate.

"When the sixth game is finished, if you are number one it would be better but, even if you are number two you need to move on slowly.

"There's a lot of pressure on both of us [Sundowns and Esperance]. We are going to Addis, which is a bit difficult, but also Esperance is going to Kinshasha, which is not easy.

"We'll see how it goes, but the best thing is, after the match in Addis, we need to remain [at least] number two."

Despite scoring just four goals in their opening four matches, Zambians Zanaco lead Group D with 10 points and remain unbeaten.

Perhaps they were fortunate to play no-hopers Coton Sport - the only team in the group stage to already be eliminated - back-to-back in match-days 3 and 4, but Saith Sakala's 91st-minute winner in the second bout has put them on the brink of the knockouts.

Nonetheless, Zanaco host Africa's most successful side Al-Ahly on Saturday, and would lose top spot with a defeat. They held the Egyptian giants at home in their opener, but the Red Devils will be desperate to reassert themselves after losing away at Wydad Casablanca last week.

That victory revived the Moroccans' campaign after they suffered two defeats, but a trip to Cameroon to face hapless Coton is the ideal opportunity to move back into the top two spots.