Vegetarian Lions lie in wait for Sundowns

Johannesburg – Leones Vegetarianos (Vegetarian Lions) of Equatorial Guinea lie in wait for former winners Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa in the 2018/2019 CAF Champions League preliminary round.

The pairing is among 26 released this weekend for a one-off November-to-June edition of the premier African club competition.

After 54 years as a calendar-year competition, the Champions League is switching to an August-to-May season, starting with the 2019/2020 edition, to fall in line with many African domestic seasons.

Leones Vegetarianos boast one of the most interesting club names in the draw and are owned by Spanish vegetarian Juan Manuel Rojas, who formed the club 18 years ago.

The Malabo-based Equatoguinean outfit are making a second consecutive Champions League appearance having lost 3-1 overall to Gor Mahia of Kenya last season.

"We dare not underestimate them," warned Pitso Mosimane, a former South Africa striker and coach of the Sundowns side that won the 2016 Champions League.

Orlando Pirates, the other South African contenders and also former winners of the competition, should have little difficulty getting past Light Stars of the Seychelles.

It will be a match-up between the full-time professionals of Pirates and the part-timers of Stars with the Soweto Buccaneers enjoying home advantage first.

Lobi Stars of Nigeria return to the Champions League after 18 years and should progress to the final qualifying round at the expense of UMS de Loum from neighbouring Cameroon.

Both countries are strong at national-team level, but their clubs have performed poorly for some time in CAF competitions because the best footballers move abroad at an early age.

The last Nigerian club to lift an African trophy were Enyimba in 2005 while Cameroon have not celebrated success since Union Douala won the 1981 African Cup Winners' Cup.

Kenyan football is on the rise and Nairobi outfit Gor Mahia appear capable of eliminating Nyasa Big Bullets from Malawi.

A Gor team coached by Malta-born Dylan Kerr ran eventual 2018 champions Esperance close in the final qualifying round with the Tunisians squeezing through 1-0 on aggregate.

Sundowns, Pirates, Ismaily of Egypt, ASEC Mimosas of the Ivory Coast and Club Africain of Tunisia are the five former trophy-holders in the preliminary round.

Ismaily, champions in 1969 and back in the competition after an eight-year absence, face debutants Le Messager de Ngozi from Burundi.

ASEC, the 1998 champions, face Mangasport of Gabon at home first while 1991 trophy-holders Club Africain begin with a long trek south to play APR of Rwanda.

It is 41 years since the other Ivorian challengers, Sporting Club de Gagnoa, last competed in the Champions League and they meet Jeunesse Sportive de la Saoura from Algeria.

First legs are scheduled for November 27/28 with the return matches on December 4/5.

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