D-Day for clubs chasing CAF Champions League quarters
It's D-Day for clubs hoping to book a place in the quarterfinals of the CAF Champions League, with 2016 winners Mamelodi Sundowns standing on the brink of an embarrassing group stage exit.
The final round of pool matches will be played across the continent on Tuesday, with five of the eight quarterfinalists already decided.
Egypt's Al Ahly and Esperance of Tunisia have already sealed their passage from Group A, while DR Congo giants TP Mazembe have secured top spot in Group B.
Wydad Casablanca cannot be caught at the top of Group C, while Etoile du Sahel have an unassailable lead at the summit of Group D.
But Sundowns face a must-win home game against Horoya of Guinea in their bid for second place behind Wydad, with their equation simple: victory will see them advance on the head-to-head rule.
Anything bar a win and they will be out, which would be a massive blow to coach Pitso Mosimane and the most expensively assembled squad in South African football history.
"It will not be easy, but we have the team to beat Horoya. In Pretoria the goal is coming," Mosimane said.
"At the end of the day we have to win. We have to do what we have to do. It won't be easy, but we have to survive."
Mosimane has bemoaned Sundowns' programme, which sees them play in three different competitions in six days, resulting in him making nine changes for the first leg of their MTN8 semifinal against Cape Town City last Saturday.
He will bring back his 'big guns' to face Horoya, and hope that the usually free-scoring side can break their barren run of almost five hours without a goal.
A tetchy Mosimane refuted the suggestion that his team had a scoring problem.
"In the last five years I have been at Sundowns, nobody has scored more goals [than my team]. I think you know how many goals we have scored in the league.
"If people say Sundowns is looking for goals, then I don't know. Check your records."
Sundowns drew 2-2 against Horoya in Conakry, a game they should have won comfortably but for two defensive errors.
With just a single victory in their five pool matches to date, coming at home to minnows AS Togo-Port, they have yet to fire in African club competition this season, but now face a do-or-die scenario against a visiting team that will sit back and attempt to frustrate their hosts.
There are still three potential quarterfinal qualifiers from Group B, with Moroccan side Difaâ El Jadidi and the Algerian pair of ES Setif and MC Alger all on five points.
But the Moroccans face one of Africa's toughest away days when they travel to Lubumbashi to meet Mazembe.
MC Alger host ES Setif in the other fixture and, having claimed a 1-0 success away in the reverse fixture in May, need just a draw to finish above their opponents.
El Jadidi have a better head-to-head record than MC Alger, but are behind ES Setif on that tie-breaker should they finish level on points with either of those teams.
Should all three teams finish on six points, it will come down to head-to-head in a mini-league between them, and that would then need to be decided by goal-difference, which be in the favour of the Moroccans.
Group D is equally tight with Angolan side Primeiro de Agosto holding the advantage with six points in second place, followed by Zambians Zesco United (five) and Mbabane Swallows from Swaziland with four.
Primeiro host Swallows in their final pool match, where victory for the away side would see them leap-frog their opponents.
It would then come down to the result for Zesco at home to already qualified Etoile, where victory is needed for the former to stand a chance of advancing, no matter what happens in the other game.
Other matches on Tuesday see Egyptian giants Al Ahly host KCCA from Uganda as they seek top spot in Group A, while Township Rollers from Botswana entertain Esperance in the other match.
Top spot in the pool would mean being seeded for quarterfinals and avoiding the likes of champions Wydad and Mazembe.
Both Ahly and Esperance have 10 points, but the former are leading on head-to-head, which means the latter must get the better result on Tuesday.
Wydad travel to AS Port Togo in a dead rubber in Group C, though the Togolese could dump Sundowns to the bottom of the pool with a win which would be a massive moment for the club that were expected to be last in the pool.