Heated Sundowns-Wydad rivalry to be renewed in CAF Champions League

Ismail El Haddad and Wydad Athletic Club knocked Mamelodi Sundowns out of the CAF Champions League last season. EPA/STR

The draw for the group stage of the 2019-20 CAF Champions League has produced a renewal of one of African football's most heated rivalries of recent years, with South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns and Moroccan club Wydad Athletic Club of Casablanca pooled together yet again.

It's the fourth successive edition of the tournament in which Downs and Wydad will cross swords.

Their rivalry dates back to the 2017 tournament, when the Moroccans ended Sundowns' reign as African kings with a penalty shootout victory in the quarterfinals. They were then brought together again in the group stages of the past two Champions League tournaments.

Their meetings in the 2018-19 group stage produced massive friction, with Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane nearly getting into a fist fight with counterparts on the Wydad bench in a 2-1 home win for the South African team in January.

"They are used to winning‚ a loss to them is something different and they know how to manipulate the system by pressurising referees‚" Mosimane said after that fractious match. "It is for the first time I saw a referee and an assistant moving out of the pitch to look for balls. This happens every week but I have never seen referees going to look for balls‚ but the bench put pressure on them. That's why the North Africans dominate this space."

Wydad ultimately had the last laugh, though, as they not only finished ahead of Sundowns in the group standings but also later knocked the South African side out of the competition with a 2-1 aggregate triumph over two legs in the semifinals.

Mosimane, in response to being pooled with the Casablanca side once again, took a conciliatory approach on Twitter.

"Here we go again! How many times? We played and competed so many times and we ended up being friends and family!"

Yet you can be sure 'Jingles' will have his teeth gritted with determination for the teams' meetings in Group C, which also features Algeria's USM Alger and Angolan club Petro de Luanda.

No easy groups in a field of champions

Sundowns' group is tough, but there are no less than 11 former champions in the 16-team field, ensuring that no pool can be considered predictable.

Group A has something of a question mark hanging over it, as it will only be completed when Zamalek (Egypt) and Generation Foot (Senegal) finish their qualifying tie. The West African team (who hold a 2-1 lead from the first leg) pulled out of the return game in Egypt last month when the date and venue were changed at the last minute by CAF, and the clash has since been rearranged.

The winners will consider DR Congo heavyweights TP Mazembe as the prime threat, the Ravens were champions as recently as 2015 and reached the semis last season, while Zambia's Zesco United and Angola's Primeiro de Agosto represent tricky challenges in their own right.

Group B sees the renewal of another great rivalry, that of Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel and Egyptian giants Al Ahly. The teams famously clashed in the finals in 2005 (won by Ahly) and 2007 (won by ESS), and sparks will certainly fly at their coming clashes in Cairo and Sousse. This pool also features Al Hilal, the Sudanese conquerors of Nigeria's Enyimba in the previous round, and Zimbabwe's FC Platinum, who come into battle a wounded animal after recently losing coach Norman Mapeza to South Africa's Chippa United.

"It's a fair draw and to be the best in Africa you need to be paired with the very best, too," Platinum communications officer Chido Chizondo told Zimbabwe's Soccer 24. "We look forward to our new dance in Africa, and we will give it 100%. Football is ultimately about taking each day as it comes.

Group D is headlined by current African kings Esperance de Tunis, who are chasing a third straight continental crown. They will have North African derbies against Moroccan club Raja Casablanca and Algeria's JS Kabylie, with DR Congo side AS Vita the odd one out in the quartet.