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 By Nick Said

Who's who in the CAF Champions League group stages

The draw for the 2017 African Champions League pool stages will take place on April 26 as the continent's elite sides compete in the expanded four-group format in their hunt for glory.

KweséESPN brings you the lowdown on the 16 sides that will make up the draw in Cairo.

AL-AHLY (EGYPT)
Previous wins: 1982, 1987, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2013 Ahly hold the record for most Champions League title wins with eight; their most recent coming in 2013. They are currently runaway leaders in the Egyptian Premier League and edged South African side Bidvest Wits to reach this stage of the competition.

AL-AHLI TRIPOLI (LIBYA)
Previous wins: None The Libyan side is competing in Africa's elite competition for just the fourth time, and it is the first year that they have reached the pool stages. Their hey-day was in the 1970s when they were dominant in the Libyan domestic championship, but they have seen a resurgence in fortunes in recent years. They have been playing their home games in Tunisia due to the civil unrest in Libya.

AL-HILAL (SUDAN)
Previous wins: None Al-Hilal were runners-up in the Champions League in 1987 and 1992, and have been semifinalists on three occasions in the last decade, but are yet to lift the trophy. They are regular visitors to this stage of the competition, with their formidable home form a major factor.

AL-MERREIKH (SUDAN)
Previous wins: None Like their great Sudanese rivals Al-Hilal, Al-Merreikh were semifinalists in 2015, which was their best showing since they first competed in the elite African competition in 1971. They have looked below-par in 2017 so far, but did record a remarkable comeback against Nigerian side Rivers United to reach this stage of the competition. Trailing 3-0 from the away leg, they returned home to win 4-0.

AS VITA CLUB (DR CONGO)
Previous wins: 1973 AS Vita Club have had to play second-fiddle to compatriots TP Mazembe in recent years as the latter claimed three continental titles, but under astute national team coach Florent Ibenge they may feel this is their year. They were denied a place in the pool stages last year having been found guilty of fielding an ineligible player, with their replacements Mamelodi Sundowns going on to win the title.

CAPS UNITED (ZIMBABWE)
Previous wins: None United caused the shock of competition so far when the ousted DR Congo giants TP Mazembe on way goals in the last round, a sign that they will be no pushovers in the pool stages. The Zimbabwe champions have returned to the competition for the first time since being disqualified in 2006, and have reached the group stages of an African club competition for the first time in their history.

COTONSPORT (CAMEROON)
Previous wins: None The Garoua have been the dominant force in Cameroon football since the turn of the century with 13 league titles. They were runners-up to surprise winners UMS de Loum in 2016, but while their compatriots exited the Champions League in the preliminary round, their greater experience of competing on the African stage has seen them win through to the pool phase. They were also Champions League runners-up in 2008.

ESPÉRANCE (TUNISIA)
Previous wins: 1994, 2011 The Tunis side have been champions as recently as 2011, but their impact on the competition has diminished in recent seasons. They were also finalists in 2012 and made the semis a year later, but since then have not made it out the group stage and did not qualify for the competition at all in 2016. They look to have regained some spark though, and are locked in a battle with Etoile du Sahel for the Tunisian championship this season.

ETOILE DU SAHEL (TUNISIA)
Previous wins: 2007 Etoile's one and only victory in this competition came 10 years ago, but that triumph seems a long way off. They were also beaten finalists in 2004 and 2005, but since then have made little impact. They did claim the Confederation Cup two years ago, perhaps signalling they are on the rise again and could be a serious contender in the Champions League this season.

FERROVIÁRIO BEIRA (MOZAMBIQUE)
Previous wins: None Ferroviário Beira are appearing in the Champions League for the first time in their 93-year history after claiming their domestic championship in 2016. Both previous appearances in the Confederation Cup resulted in first round exits in 2006 and 2014. They defeated Zanzibar outfit Zimamoto and Liberian side Barrack Young Controllers to reach this stage of the competition.

Al-Ahly fans will once again play a huge role in their team's success.

MAMELODI SUNDOWNS (SOUTH AFRICA)
Previous wins: 2017 The defending champions squeezed past Ugandan side KCCA in the last round, with that tie coming during a dip in form for the South African champions. But they look to have lifted their form again and will be among the leading contenders again this year, even if they have suffered the loss of key man Keagan Dolly to French outfit Montpellier.

SAINT GEORGE (ETHIOPIA)
Previous wins: None St George are celebrating 50 years of competing in African club competition this season, but this will be the first time they have reached the pool stages of any of the continental tournaments. Their best previous showing in the Champions League was the first round, so this is a major step forward for the Ethiopian side.

USM ALGER (ALGERIA)
Previous wins: None The Algerian side were runners-up in 2015, where they lost out to TP Mazembe in a comprehensive 4-1 final aggregate defeat. They have been off the pace in their domestic championship this year and somewhat squeezed past Burkina Faso side RC Kadiogo in the last round, suggesting they do not have the same dominating aura as two years ago.

WYDAD CASABLANCA (MOROCCO)
Previous wins: 1992 Wydad were Champions League finalists as recently as 2011, but did not appear in the competition again until a semifinal showing in 2016. They are back again and having finished runners-up in the Moroccan domestic championship last year, appear odds-on to lift the title this season.

ZAMALEK (EGYPT)
Previous wins: 1984, 1986, 1993, 1996, 2002 Last year's beaten finalists will do well to rediscover that form as they have battled on and off the pitch in recent times. They did well to defeat Enugu Rangers of Nigeria 5-3 on aggregate in the last round, but domestically have battled and look a side in some turmoil. But counting in their favour is vast experience of competing at this stage of the competition.

ZANACO (ZAMBIA)
ZANACO are hoping to emulate compatriots ZESCO United in reaching the Champions League semifinals, with the latter ousted at that stage by Mamelodi Sundowns last year. ZANACO have reached this stage of the competition for the first time in their history, but did reach the group stage of the Confederation Cup in 2010.

Nick Said is a Southern African sports writer for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @NickSaid.

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