NIGERIAN clubs Plateau United and Mountain of Fire and Miracles must clear intimidating hurdles if they are to reach the 2018 CAF Champions League group stage.
The draw for the preliminary and first rounds in Cairo Wednesday delivered both debutants in the elite African club competition with tougher rivals than they would have wished for.
National league winners Plateau drew fellow newcomers Eding Sport of Cameroon in the preliminary round with the two legs scheduled for successive weekends in February.
Should United survive, they will confront Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, one of 10 teams in the 2018 line-up who have won the Champions League, during March.
Etoile stunned overwhelming favourites Al Ahly of Egypt in the 2007 title decider by winning 3-1 in Cairo after a goalless first leg.
Unlike Plateau, the Tunisian outfit are vastly experienced African campaigners and the only winners of all five present and past CAF club competitions.
They reached the Champions League semi-finals this year, then imploded in the return match against Ahly and suffered a 6-1 thrashing in Alexandria.
Etoile were among five former champions to receive byes into the round of 32 and will be expected to eliminate Plateau or Eding.
Mountain of Fire and Miracles, whose club title is easily the most eye catching among the 59 title hopefuls, drew Real Bamako of Mali.
Should they overcome that obstacle, the Nigerians will probably face 1976 champions Mouloudia Alger of Algeria, who reached the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup last-eight this season.
North African clubs have dominated the Champions League for decades and the odds are against MFM, a club bankrolled by a popular pentecostal christian organisation.
Defending champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco, who edged Ahly 2-1 overall in the 2017 final, begin their defence against Stade Malien of Mali or Williamsville of the Ivory Coast.
Malien won the Confederation Cup in 2009, but have never made the group stage of the Champions League in countless attempts.
Williamsville are another club set to compete in the Champions League for the first time and inexperience could count against them when they tackle Stade.
Record eight-time champions Ahly should not be unduly troubled by Kadiogo of Burkina Faso or Mounana of Gabon, who fell to Wydad this year after a first-round penalty shootout.
After failing to reach the last two group stages, five-time title-holders TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo should brush aside Ngaya of the Comoros or Songo of Mozambique. – AFP
– Dec 13, 2017 @ 17:03 GMT