There were 60 and now, there are just eight. The cream of African football steps up the battle towards the most coveted club trophy in the continent, the TotalEnergies CAF Champions League, with the quarter finals starting this weekend.
Defending champions Al Ahly lead the lot of the teams to earn a ticket to the last eight, and the journey to whittle down the number to the top side takes a new gear.
ES Setif vs Esperance – Stade du 5 Juillet 1962, Algiers, Friday 21h00 GMT
Esperance was one of the only two sides to finish the group phase of the competition without suffering defeat to top their group and will be travelling to Algeria to start off the quarter-final journey against Setif who last reached the quarters in 2018.
Esperance, winners of the Champions League four times, have progressed to the quarters every season since 2017 and look the part ahead of the meet up with Setif.
The Algerians who have one Champions League title, won in 2014, will be looking to make the best of their home advantage, to ease the burden of battling for a win in Rades in the return fixture.
In their recent last four meetings in the Champions League, each side has won once, with the remaining two ending in draws. Their last meeting was in the 2014 season when Setif won the first leg away from home 2-1 before drawing 2-2 in the second leg.
Setif come into the tie on the backdrop of poor results, having lost their last four matches; three in the league and one in the Champions League, without scoring a goal.
Esperance have a contrasting fortune, having won three of their last five matches, drawing one and losing one across all competitions.
Petro de Luanda vs Mamelodi Sundowns – Estádio 11 de Novembro, Luanda, Saturday 16h00 GMT
The battle of the two southern Africa countries will kick off in Luanda on Saturday night, their third meeting in the recent past in the Champions League. They last met in the 2019-20 season, Sundowns winning the first leg 3-0 at home before drawing 2-2 in Luanda.
Coming into the tie, 2016 winners Sundowns are the form side, having won all their last five matches across all competitions. They have scored a whooping 15 goals in their last three matches, an average of five per game.
They warmed up for this fixture with a 6-0 drubbing of Golden Arrows in the PSL on Tuesday.
Petro on the other hand have won just two of their last five, losing a similar number, including a 5-1 humbling by Wydad Club Athletic in their last group match.
Petro are playing in the quarters for the first time since 2001 when they reached the semis. Their last two sojourns ended in the group phase.
For Masandawana, they have reached every quarter final since they won the title in 2016, bar 2018. They have however failed to go past the quarters in the last two successive Championships.
Al Ahly v Raja Club Athletic – Al Salam Stadium Cairo, Saturday 20h00 GMT
These two sides clash in the first leg at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo, just slightly less than five months since they last met, in the CAF Super Cup which ended in a 1-1 draw. Ahly, winners of the Champions League last season, ultimately triumphed over the Confederation Cup champions on penalties.
This will be the fourth time the two sides meet in the recent past, and the third in the Champions League. Their last meeting in the competition was in 2005, The Red Devils winning the first leg 1-0 at home before playing to a 1-1 draw in the return leg away.
Holders have not been as impressive as many would have expected them to be in the group stages, but what matters to them most is the fact that they are in the quarters.
Raja have had a fairly successful group stage campaign, winning five of their six matches to top their group. They only conceded twice and this will offer the backbone of their campaign as they face Ahly.
Ahly come into the match off the backdrop of a 1-0 loss at the hands of Al Masry, their first loss in five matches. Raja on the other hand have won three straight league matches and are second in the league.
CR Belouizdad v Wydad Club Athletic – Stade du 5 Juillet 1962, Algiers, Saturday 21h00 GMT
Belouizdad and Wydad are meeting for the first time in the Champions League, both coming into the game with almost fortunes.
Wydad have not lost a match since February 23 when they were defeated 2-0 by Hassania Agadir. They have won seven of their last eight matches. CRB have also won seven of their last 10 fixtures, losing only once against Esperance in the Champions League last month.
CRB finished second in their group and are playing in the quarter finals of the new Champions League era for the first time ever.
Wydad who topped Group D are playing the quarter finals for a seventh consecutive time. Over that period, they have won the title once (2017), lost a final once (2018-19) and reached three semi-finals.
SOURCE: CAF ONLINE