CAF Champions League
Juan Carlos Garrido sets off this weekend on a journey he hopes will end with him becoming the first Spanish coach to win a CAF club competition.
The 45-year-old former Villarreal, Club Brugge and Real Betis boss has signed a two-year contract to guide Egyptian club Al-Ahly, winners of a record 18 African titles.
And the Spaniard who began coaching when only 24 gets his first experience of CAF football when Ahly host Ivorians Sewe San Pedro Saturday in the Confederation Cup.
Taking charge of such a formidable force boosts his chances of emulating coaches from England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and various east European states.
Ahly supporters hope Garrido can help the Cairo ‘Red Devils’ dominate Africa like another Iberian peninsula coach, Portuguese Manuel Jose, did during the previous decade.
Jose took Ahly to four Champions League and four Super Cup titles between 2001 and 2008 – an eight-title haul that is a CAF record for a coach.
“Winning Egyptian and African competitions and playing attractive football are my major goals,” Garrido told the Cairo media after replacing caretaker coach Fathi Mabrouk.
“Our desire to build a new team of young players was the main reason behind the signing of Juan Carlos,” added Ahly football director Alaa Abdel Sadek.
Ahly lead Group B in the mini-league phase of the second-tier CAF competition on goal difference from Tunisians Etoile Sahel after each side collected five points from three matches.
Confederation Cup group debutants Sewe lie third, two points adrift, after three consecutive draws and Zambians Nkana prop up the standings with a solitary point.
The top two finishers after a double round of fixtures advance to the semi-finals with Ahly and fellow former African champions Etoile firm favourites.
While Ahly host Sewe at Cairo Stadium, Etoile make the long journey south to tackle Nkana a few hours earlier in Zambian copper-belt city Kitwe.
Despite lacking several injured stars, including leading 2010 Africa Cup of Nations goal-scorer Mohamed “Gedo” Nagy, Ahly are expected to secure maximum points.
They held Sewe 1-1 in Abidjan during June with Burkinabe Moussa Yedan putting Ahly ahead on the stroke of half-time and Edem Akrofi levelling.
Etoile came from behind three times against Nkana in Mediterranean resort Sousse to win 4-3 with Guinean Khalil Bangoura snatching the late winner.
Serb coach Dragan Cvetkovic makes his CAF debut for the Tunisians after veteran French handler Roger Lemerre did not renew his contract.
Cameroonians Coton Sport can become the first qualifiers for the semi-finals if they defeat Ivorian visitors ASEC Saturday and Malians Real Bamako do not win at Congolese AC Leopards Sunday.
That scenario could well materialise as Coton triumphed 3-2 at ASEC during June and Leopards won 2-1 at Real.
Coton top Group A with seven points, 2012 Confederation Cup winners Leopards have five, ASEC two and Real just one.