USM Alger go into Sunday’s CAF Champions League semi-final with El Hilal on Sunday in fine form, as they seek to reach the final for the first time since 2003.
Miloud Hamdi’s side stormed through Group B ahead of fellow semi-finalists Al Merrikh – taking 15 points from their six outings to equal the record points haul set by Esperance in 1999 and 2013.
Their only defeat came at the hands of Merrikh, having already ensured progression with five wins from their first five outings.
However, while Esperance failed to reach the final on both those occasions, Alger will hope to deny their Sudanese opponents a third appearance in the final and ensure a chance at righting the wrongs of 2003 when they were beaten 3-2 on aggregate by Enyimba of Nigeria.
While Sunday’s visitors to the Al-Hilal Stadium enjoyed a routine progression to the final four, Nabil Al Kouki’s men were made to sweat on their semi-final appearance.
Following a goalless draw with TP Mazembe, Hilal got back on track with a home victory over Smouha.
However, one point from their reverse TP Mazembe fixture and the trip to Moghreb Tetouan left qualification in doubt, although Al Kouki’s side ultimately prevailed – finishing second in Group A despite averaging less than a goal a game.
With qualification booked, Hilal will hope the likes of Kaddour Beldjilali and Mohamed Meftah can continue to provide the firepower as they seek to make the most of home advantage.
Since 2001, the team hosting the first leg has advanced to the final on 11 times.
Beldjilali and Meftah have six goals between them in the tournament while Nizar Hamid and Boubacar Kebe also have three each.
Youcef Belaili is likely to be Alger’s main attacking threat – boasting four Champions League goals as well as four in his last five games in all competitions.