CAIRO - Etoile Sahel of Tunisia will begin their defence of the African Champions League title against AS Douanes of Senegal or CF Ouagadougou of Burkina Faso in March.
The club from the Mediterranean resort of Sousse defied the odds to win the competition for the first time last month, defeating Al-Ahly 3-1 in Egypt after the first leg of the final ended goalless.
And the Red Devils should not be unduly troubled by Douanes, disqualified after a first-round victory this year for fielding an ineligible player, or newcomers Ouagadougou.
Etoile represent Africa at the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan this month and face African Confederation Cup holders CS Sfaxien in an all-Tunisia African Super Cup match on February 23 before starting their Champions League defence.
Sahel will have home advantage first against Douanes or Ouagadougou, on the weekend of March 21-23 before travelling to west Africa two weeks later.
The Tunisians are hoping to become only the fourth club after TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo (1967-1968), Enyimba of Nigeria (2003-2004) and Ahly (2005-2006) to successfully defend the title. And their chances could hinge on French coach Bertrand Marchand keeping his young stars in Tunisia, especially strikers Amine Chermiti and Gilson 'Ja' Silva.
Ahly, among six clubs to receive a first-round bye, start their campaign for a record sixth success in the premier African Football Confederation club competition against Tusker of Kenya or Al-Tahrir of Eritrea.
It is not a pairing that should worry Portugal-born Ahly coach Manuel Jose, who led the Cairo Red Devils to three of five triumphs in a championship carrying a $1million first prize.
Zamalek of Egypt, arch rivals of Ahly and also five-time winners of the Champions League, must play in the first round and experienced Rwandan army club APR could prove awkward opponents.
Al-Hilal of Sudan and Al-Ittihad of Libya, surprise semifinalists this year, may face long second-round journeys as they set out to prove their showings were no flukes.
Hilal were grouped with Revenue Authority of Uganda or newcomers Zesco United of Zambia, while Ittihad face Stade Malien of Mali or Angolan army outfit Primeiro Agosto.
Sfaxien begin their defence of the Confederation Cup against JSM Bejaia of Algeria while runners-up Al-Merreikh of Sudan confront Harar Beer of Ethiopia or Rayon Sports of Rwanda. - Sapa-AFP