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Gabon’s Aubameyang, Uganda’s Onyango on final 3-man awards shortlists

Paris, France | AFP | 

Borussia Dortmund and Gabon star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still in line to retain his African Player of the Year crown after making the final three-man shortlist on Thursday.

The 27-year-old French-born forward will go up against Leicester City and Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez and Liverpool and Senegal winger Sadio Mane for the prize.

Mohamed Salah of Roma and Egypt and Islam Slimani of Leicester and Algeria both failed to make the final list having made it into the final five nominees.

There are two categories, the overall and the home-based players. The three contenders for the prize for best African player based on the continent are Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango, Zambian midfielder Rainford Kalaba and Zimbabwean forward Khama Billiat.

The winners will be unveiled at a ceremony on Thursday January 5 in Abuja, Nigeria.

Aubameyang’s victory last year ended Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure’s run of winning the trophy in four successive years.

Mahrez stands a great chance of dethroning him, though, after enjoying a stunning 2016 in which he helped Leicester win the Premier League title and won the English Players’ Player of the Year award.

KCC face Angolan club, Vipers face Comoros outfit Volcan De Moroni Football Club

South African club Mamelodi Sundowns start their defence of the CAF Champions League title next March against KCCA of Uganda or Primeiro Agosto of Angola after Thursday’s draw in Cairo.

KCCA and Primerio meet a month earlier in the preliminary round with the overall winners of the two-leg tie getting the first chance to topple the reigning champions.

Tradition favours the Pretoria outfit advancing to the group stage as only one winner of the premier African club competition since a 1997 format change has fallen at the first hurdle.

Hearts of Oak from Ghana, champions in 2000, were the victims, but it would be a shock if Sundowns suffered a similar fate.

Since defeating Zamalek of Egypt 3-1 on aggregate in the final two months ago, they have bolstered an already impressive squad.

Additions include Brazilian centre-back Ricardo Nascimento, former South Africa Footballer of the Year Sibusiso Vilakazi in midfield and Ivorian striker Yannick Zakri.

“We are determined to retain the Champions League title in order to get another crack at the FIFA Club World Cup,” striker Percy Tau told reporters.

Sundowns believe they did not do justice to their abilities in Japan this month when losing 2-0 to hosts Kashima Antlers and 4-1 to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea.

Those defeats to Asian opponents condemned the African representatives to sixth place in the seven-club competition.

Wits, the other South African qualifiers, must have had mixed feelings after the draw was made at the African Football Confederation (CAF) headquarters.

They should overcome Saint-Louisienne of Reunion without undue difficulty to secure a last-32 place, but the reward would be a showdown with record eight-time African champions Al Ahly of Egypt.

Enyimba are the only Nigerian club to lift the Champions League trophy, winning the 2003 and 2004 finals.

But the chances of compatriots Enugu Rangers or Rivers United (formerly Dolphins) emulating that achievement suffered setbacks after tough draws.

Rivers must overcome Real Bamako of Mali and, almost certainly, 2015 Champions League semi-finalists Al Merrikh of Sudan just to make the group phase.

Even stronger opponents lie in wait for Enugu, whose lone CAF title came in the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup 40 years ago.

First up for Rangers are debutants JS Saoura of Algeria and, if successful, they must down five-time champions Zamalek.

TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo share with Zamalek the feat of being African champions five times.

The club based in mining city Lubumbashi appear ‘bankers’ for a group place having been paired with Lioli of Lesotho or CAPS United of Zimbabwe, their likely opponents.

Tunisian clubs are always capable of going far and Etoile Sahel and Esperance, who received byes into the round of 32, will believe the draw treated them favourably.

Etoile, the only team to win all five present and past CAF club competitions, tackle the winners between AS Tanda of the Ivory Coast and AS FAN of Niger.

Esperance will also meet west African opposition in Goree of Senegal or Horoya of Guinea, winners of the 1978 African Cup Winners Cup.

The 2017 Champions League will feature increased prize money with the winners pocketing $2.5 million (2.4 million euros).

There are also format changes with the qualifying phase trimmed from three rounds to two, the number of group qualifiers doubled from eight to 16, and the introduction of quarter-finals

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