The other trio; record six-time winners Al-Ahly of Egypt, Esperance of Tunisia and J.S. Kabylie of Algeria will also commence their campaign proper of the premier continental club championships with dicey away duels.
With eight teams remaining, the dust has settled and the battle for the most-sought after title in African club competition is down to the octet.
Mazembe will be away in Harare as guests of Zimbabwean champions, Dynamos FC in their Group A clash, whilst Algerian champions Entente Setif lock horns with Tunisian giants Esperance in the other group encounter in Setif.
Les Corbeaux as the Congolese champions are nicknamed have been preparing feverishly for the mini-league stage. The Lubumbashi-based club wrapped up their preparations with a training tour of Zambia to fine-tune and acclimatize as well. Mazembe drew 1-1 with Power Dynamos and Zesco United before defeating Nchanga Rangers by a lone goal during their three-match trip to the Copperbelt region.
With that, head coach Diego Garzitto remains optimistic about their chances in their quest to defend their crown.
“The outing to Zambia has been a success and the teams we played against on the tour were competitive. For me, I can say that my team had a good outing,” Garzitto said ahead of their clash with Dynamos.
In the South-eastern Nigerian city of Owerri, last-year’s losing finalists Heartland FC will face their biggest test so far in the competition against record winner’s Ahly. The Egyptian giants appear still haunted by their last encounter with a club from Africa’s most populous country after Kano Pillars masterminded their exit last year.
Whilst Ahly are primed for the encounter after a training tour of Germany and Austria, Heartland have their lone goal ,loss to Kawar United in their ultimate match of the Nigerian Premier League, where they finished a disappointing eighth as the only form of preparation.
Ahly have enriched their squad with the capture of Mohamed “Geddo” Nagy, top marksman at the Angola 2010 Orange Africa Cup of Nations and coach Hossam Al-Badri believes matches against former European champions Ajax Amsterdam and Romanian side Universitatea Cluj is enough a booster to their preparations.
“I’m satisfied with the team’s form during the training camp, which was very useful. The players were tactically disciplined, produced fine displays and appeared in a good shape.”
Ahly’s compatriots, Ismaily will engage J.S. Kabylie of Algeria in the other Group B clash.
Dynamos vs Mazembe
Entente Setif vs Esperance
Ismaily vs JSK
Heartland vs Ahly