The CAF Confederation Cup’s second semifinal first leg will take place at Ivory Coast’s Stade Bouaké, where Ivorian champions ASEC Mimosas will host Algeria’s USM Alger.
ASEC has a packed schedule this month, with numerous domestic league matches alongside their Confederation Cup campaign, but they remain in excellent form and undefeated in Ivory Coast’s Ligue 1. USM Alger impressed by progressing past Morocco’s ASFAR in the quarterfinals and believe they are favorites to win the competition, boasting a talented squad.
ASEC, under the guidance of Frenchman Julien Chevalier as head coach, rested several players in their Ligue 1 victory against Stella Adjame to ensure key players are in optimal condition for the first leg. Chevalier, a former manager of ASEC’s academy, has achieved remarkable success since returning to the club after serving as an assistant coach with the Togo national team. The team firmly believes they can reach the final, a stage they have not reached in CAF club competition since their victory in the 1998 CAF Champions League. ASEC is hopeful for a large crowd on Wednesday, and former club captain Gadji Celi is among those encouraging supporters to attend.
Les Mimosas are experiencing a remarkable season, largely due to their strong defense, having conceded only four goals throughout the group stage and quarterfinals of the Confederation Cup. Goalkeeper Charles Folly continues to impress after his return from national team duty with Ivory Coast at the 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN). He is supported by former Elephants central defender Wonlo Coulibaly, who provides reliability to the ASEC defense.
Folly and Coulibaly bring experience to a team renowned for developing exceptional young players. Central midfielder Mohamed Zoungrana, known for his defensive work in the midfield, is a standout player drawing interest from top African clubs. Aubin Kramo poses a significant goal-scoring threat from the wing, while young forward Karamoko Sankara’s finishing skills continue to improve.
Although USM Alger is not enjoying the desired form in Algeria’s Ligue 1 Professionnelle, “Les Usmistes” are confident in their ability to overcome their Ivorian opponents. Head coach Abdelhak Benchikha had a tough period with Morocco’s RS Berkane earlier this season but is an experienced coach whose expertise proved crucial in their victory over fellow contenders ASFAR in the semifinals. Benchikha expressed his respect for ASEC as a challenging opponent and emphasized the need for his players to remain focused, diligent, and avoid taking unnecessary risks in the first leg.
Unfortunately, USM Alger will be without important attacker Abderrahmane Meziane, who has been ruled out due to injury. However, they have two high-quality forwards in the team, including Botswana national team star Tumisang Orebonye and Aymen Mahious, who led Algeria to the final of the 2022 CHAN with five goals, the most in the tournament. ASEC’s defense must be prepared to handle crosses and set-pieces, where USMA’s aerial prowess and excellent targets pose a threat.
Captain and central defender Zineddine Belaid will lead a highly regarded defense that needs to be prepared for the intense heat they will face in Ivory Coast on Wednesday.