Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies will be out to prove their Women’s African Champions League success was not “a fluke” when they defend their title in Morocco.
The South African champions won the inaugural eight-team finals last November in Egypt, and begin their Group B campaign against Nigerian debutants Bayelsa Queens on Monday.
Sundowns will then face returning Egyptian club Wadi Degla and DR Congo’s TP Mazembe, another club making its first appearance at the tournament, which is being hosted in Rabat and Marrakech.
“There’s a lot at stake for us as a defending champions – the pressure will always be there,” coach Jerry Tshabalala said.
“The good thing about this tournament is the girls are prepared and know what to expect. This will make my job easier compared to the previous one.
“We need to prove that it wasn’t a fluke for us to become the first team to win the Champions League. It’s never an easy task to defend a title. There will always be a mountain to climb.”
TP Mazembe are one of the continent’s giants in the men’s game, having been crowned African champions five times, but their women’s team was created just two years ago.
Women’s competitions in DR Congo are less developed than in other African countries but Etienne Mboumba, the club’s women’s sporting director, is dreaming big.
“Our wish is to see women’s soccer emerge,” Mboumba told BBC Sport Africa.
“Our goal is to win the Champions League. This is our plan. It would really be the best gift we could give to our club president Moise Katumbi.
“He is always there, he is always listening. He is really a father for us.”
Mazembe midfielder Juliette Atimango added: “We do not fear any team and, with the help of our coaches, we have confidence.”
Yenagoa-based Bayelsa Queens, meanwhile, travel to Morocco after Bayelsa State was badly affected by the worst flooding the West African nation has seen in a decade.
Prize fund motivation
In Group A, hosts AS FAR will take on Simba Queens of Tanzania, Liberian club Determine Girls and Zambia’s Green Buffaloes – three sides who did not appear in the first edition of the Women’s African Champions League.
The Moroccans were beaten semi-finalists last year, while Green Buffaloes beat Mamelodi Sundowns on penalties in the final of their regional qualifying tournament.
“The girls have been producing results and we are confident,” Green Buffaloes coach Charles Haalubono said.
“We won the Cosafa Cup [against Sundowns], but it was not easy. It was one of the toughest games we have ever played.
“We have been working up front as during the Cosafa Cup we wasted a lot of chances.”
Organisers the Confederation of African Football have announced the winners of the tournament will receive $400,000 in prize money.
The runners-up will be handed £250,000, with beaten semi-finalists taking home $200,000 and the teams finishing third and fourth in the group $150,000 and $100,000 respectively.
Although the figures are far below the $2.5m awarded to the winners of the men’s African Champions League, Sundowns coach Tshabalala believes the prize fund is “motivation on its own”.
“Everyone knows that if you win the Champions League, it will change some of the players’ lives,” the 42-year-old added.
“It doesn’t matter which team gets to win it. It’s an opportunity for them to go out there and say ‘We’ve got money in our pocket, this will make a little bit of a difference’.”
The tournament, which will begin on Sunday, culminates in the final in Rabat, the Moroccan capital, on Sunday 13 November.
Women’s African Champions League group draw
Group A: AS FAR (Morocco, hosts), Simba Queens (Tanzania), Green Buffaloes (Zambia) and Determine Girls (Liberia).
Group B: Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa, holders), Bayelsa Queens (Nigeria), Wadi Degla (Egypt) and TP Mazembe (DR Congo).