Sun setting in the East: African, Asian Champions Leagues Nearing Climax

[I was planning on putting a picture of an attractive, scantily-clad Asian woman (here’s to you, Masuimi Max), but that might drive you to Google more pictures of her, and distract you from the original purpose – reading this article. Maybe next time, eh?]

While the Champions League is still going through its group stages, a couple of the other club competitions around the world are on the verge of wrapping up.

Today, Egyptian side Al-Ahly and Tunisian club Etoile Sahel will play the second leg of CAF Champions League, African football’s top club competition. The two sides drew 0-0 in Tunisia, but Al-Ahly is the favorite to lift the trophy, as they not only have the home-field advantage, but they’re also the two-time defending champions of the competition. They’re looking to win the competition for a third straight time and sixth overall, which would both be records for the competition, which has been played since 1964.

While many talk about the number of trophies clubs like Manchester United have won, the Egyptian Red Devils are one of the most decorated sides in the world, with 32 league titles and more than 100 titles total domestically and continentally in their history. I imagine they’ve had to expand their trophy room a few times, to say the least.

The CAF Champions League isn’t the only one about to crown a champion. Next Wednesday, the second leg of the Asian Champions League final will be played between Japanese champions Urawa Reds and Iranian club Sepahan FC. In the first leg, Urawa took a huge step towards claimining the trophy by drawing 1-1 in Iran. Whoever comes out on top will be a first-time winner, and if Urawa wins, they’ll be the first Japanese side to win the competition since 2002, whereas if Sepahan comes out victorious, they’ll be the first Iranian side to win the competition since 1993.

There are some familiar names on the Urawa side, in midfielder Shinji Ono, who played for Feyenoord, and veteran Brazilian strikers Robson Ponte and Washington, who have both played in Europe.

The winners of each competition will gain an automatic berth in December’s FIFA Club World Cup, which AC Milan, Copa Libertadores champ Boca Juniors, Mexican side Pachuca, and New Zealand side Waitakere United have already qualified for through winning their region’s respective club competitions.

The other spot will go to a representative of the host country Japan. So, win or lose, Urawa have a back way into the competition, as they’re seven points ahead in the J-League with four matches remaining in the season.

I know many outside of each region might not give either competition the time of the day, but it might not be a bad idea to do so, since one of the managers could end up managing your favorite club (a la former Nagoya Grampus Eight managers Arsene Wenger and Carlos Queiroz), or at least you could get an early look at some names who may look familiar in the near future, like 21-year Congolese and TP Mazembe forward Tresor Mputu Mabi, the highest scorer of the African Champions League with nine goals. Mputu could soon be the latest African star to make the move to Europe, as he’s been linked with a move to Arsenal, among others, so it may not be long before he’s the next Kanu, Benni McCarthy, Yakubu, Benjani, or John Utaka. In other words, Harry Redknapp’s already got first option on him, so if you’re smart, be the first to get his Portsmouth jersey, and start working on your ‘Mputuuuuuuuuuuu’ celebratory chant.

Not only that, but you can also get a head start on getting to know some of the players you’ll see in World Cup 2010, where some new stars are certain to burst onto the international scene.

Some of these future ‘gems’ could end up being less famous than George Weah’s ‘cousin’ Ali Dia (I think I might stand a better chance of making it into professional football, and that’s saying a lot, if you know me), or as infamous as Mido, but at least they might be worth searching for on Football Manager.

So, pay attention and start learning how to pronounce those names, because there’s nothing more embarrassing for your fanhood than having to point when someone asks who your favorite player is. Shunsuke Nakamura – quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

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