Home start for holders Al Ahly in African Champions League group phase

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FILE PHOTO: African Champions League Final - Zamalek v Al Ahly

CAIRO (Reuters) - Record African Champions League winners Al Ahly of Egypt have been handed a home start in the group phase as they continue their defence of the title they won in November.

The Cairo giants, who have won African football’s top club prize an unprecedented nine times, kick off their campaign on Feb. 12 at home to Al Merreikh from neighbouring Sudan after being drawn as top seeds in Group A.

Ahly also take on AS Vita Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania's Simba in the group from which the top two finishers advance to the quarter-finals in April.

Al Ahly easily overcame Sonidep of Niger in the second round this week to reach the 16-team group phase draw, conducted in Cairo on Friday.

Ahly’s Cairo rivals Zamalek, who they edged 2-1 in the final on Nov. 27, were drawn in a tough Group D with Tunisia’s Esperance, winners in 2018 and 2019, and Mouloudia Alger, who won the old style African Champions Cup in 1976.

The DRC's TP Mazembe (2015 winners) and South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns (2016) were drawn together in Group B.

Wydad Casablanca (2017) look to have been handed a modest challenge in Group C where they meet Petro Atletico of Angola, Horoya from Guinea and South African newcomers Kaizer Chiefs.

The group phase will be completed on April 9-10 after which eight sides advance to the knockout stages. The final is set for July 17 but the venue has yet to be decided.

The draw:

Group A: AS Vita Club (DR Congo), Al Ahly (Egypt), Al Merreikh (Sudan), Simba (Tanzania)

Group B: Chabab Belouizdad (Algeria), TP Mazembe (DR Congo), Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa), Al Hilal (Sudan)

Group C: Petro Atletico (Angola), Horoya (Guinea), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa)

Group D: Mouloudia Alger (Algeria), Zamalek (Egypt), Teungueth (Senegal), Esperance (Tunisia)

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)