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Lobi Stars begin continental campaign with loss

Football
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Sundowns need victory in Casablanca to keep destiny in their hands 

Mamelodi Sundowns' bid for a quarterfinal place in the CAF Champions League faces a crucial test on Friday when they visit holders Wydad Casablanca needing a victory to keep their destiny in their own hands.

It is a massive ask for the South African side, whose campaign has been derailed to an extent by an iffy point away at Guinea side Horoya, and a shock loss to pool minnows AS Togo-Port last month.

They are currently in second position with five points from four matches, ahead of Horoya on goal-difference and three behind Wydad.

Horoya will be expected to beat Togo-Port when they meet earlier on Friday, which means to maintain second place, Sundowns will need a victory as well as maintain the edge on goal-difference.

That is important as it would leave them needing just a draw from their final pool match at home to Horoya to advance, otherwise they could go into that clash on August 28 with the pressure of having to win.

Defender Wayne Arendse, who was a part of Sundowns' 2016 continental triumph, says they must just focus on themselves in Casablanca, where the team have been based all week, and not get sucked in by a hostile crowd and other distractions.  

"At this stage the most important thing is to play your game," Arendse told his club's website.

"As soon as you start thinking about the crowd, the referee and all those things, that's where you start making mistakes. When we won the Champions League in 2016, we just played our game and we enjoyed the game. We did what we had to do.

"We played with flair and freedom. We should keep that approach. We need to play our game with flair and freedom because when we do that, Sundowns are unstoppable. We know that this is the one that we need to win."

Victory would also send a massive statement out to the rest of the continent that Sundowns are a side on the up having battled so far to hit top gear in this season.

They may also have some revenge on their minds, having been knocked out on penalties at the quarterfinal stage by Wydad last season.

"The guys are looking fresh because this is a different competition and a different stage. We want to get going. The last time we played against them in Morocco last year, it was a knockout game. This game is no different. We need to win this game," Arendse added.

"We didn't play in Casablanca in our last game so I think that this time around it will be different because we will be in front of their home fans, playing in their city. It will be an interesting game."

Egyptian giants Al Ahly could seal their quarterfinal place on Friday when they travel to Tunisia to face Esperance, who have already sealed their passage to the next stage.

A victory would make sure of progression from Group A for the Egyptians, but a draw could also be enough depending on what happens in Saturday's clash between Ugandan side KCCA and Township Rollers from Botswana.

It is a similar story in Group B, where DR Congo side TP Mazembe have already sealed their berth in the next stage and travel to Algerian side ES Setif on Friday night, with their hosts needing victory to keep their chances alive.

The other match in the group sees Moroccan side Difaâ El Jadidi, whose knockout chances hang by a thread, needing to get a handsome win over the other Algerian side in the pool, MC Alger on Saturday. 

Victory for Alger, coupled with a loss for ES Setif would see the former advance.

Zambian side Zesco United must get a victory in Swaziland against Mbabane Swallows on Saturday to keep their hopes alive, while the latter will rely on Group D leaders Etoile du Sahel from Tunisia defeating Angolan side Primeiro de Agosto in the other match in the pool on Saturday.  

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