Leaders TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo face their toughest CAF Confederation Cup Group A test when they tackle second-place Mouloudia Bejaia in Algeria this weekend.
Both are unbeaten after two matchdays in the second-tier African club competition with Mazembe winning at home to Medeama of Ghana and away to Young Africans of Tanzania.
Bejaia defeated Young Africans at home and drew away to Medeama, leaving them two points behind the pacesetters. The top two after a double round advance to the semi-finals.
“This promises to be our most difficult group match,” admitted France-born Mazembe coach Hubert Velud before the Lubumbashi Ravens flew to Algeria.
“The players want to continue what they have been doing lately,” he said, referring to successive victories after a disappointing start to their 2016 CAF campaign.
Title-holders Mazembe were eliminated from the CAF Champions League in the final qualifying round and demoted to the Confederation Cup — a fate that also befell Bejaia.
Having relied on an away goal to oust Stade Gabesien of Tunisia in a play-off, Mazembe finally clicked to beat Medeama 3-1 with Zambia winger Rainford Kalaba bagging a brace.
Kalaba missed the victory over Young Africans through injury, but is fit to face Bejaia.
Although the Algerians lack the stars and the pedigree of their rivals, coach Nacer Sandjak has his sights set on maximum points and top spot.
“This match offers a great opportunity to maintain our unbeaten group record, collect three points and replace Mazembe as leaders,” he told the Algerian media.
Only Yacine Salhi has scored for the Bejaia Crabs in the group stage, but the club competing in Africa for the first time this season have kept two clean sheets.
Bottom side Young Africans host third-place Medeama in a must-win match for two clubs who have reached the Confederation Cup group stage for the first time.
Scoring has been a problem for both with the Tanzanians firing two blanks and Medeama going 179 minutes without a goal after Malik Akowuah gave them a first-minute lead away to Mazembe.
There is also a top-of-the-table showdown in Group B with leaders Kawkab Marrakech hosting fellow Moroccans FUS Rabat, who are two points behind.
Both have experienced African glory with Kawkab winning the now defunct CAF Cup in 1996 and FUS lifting the Confederation Cup against the odds six years ago.
The goals of Mohamed El Fakih and Abdelilah Amimi have helped Kawkab win all five CAF home games this year while FUS held title-holders Etoile Sahel in Tunisia last month.
Etoile have secured only one point and need a home win over bottom-of-the-table Al Ahly Tripoli of Libya to remain title contenders.