Africa, here we come
Ajax have pulled out, so it’s only Sundowns, Chiefs and Wits who will go on safari to hold the SA flag high
The withdrawal of Ajax Cape Town from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Confederation Cup proves how intense continental football can be. On Friday, the Western Cape side announced it was pulling out of the competition, citing logistical problems for their trip to Angola.
Ajax were due to face Sagrada Esperança in Dundo on Saturday, but had received no word from their hosts on what their travel arrangements would be to get to the venue, some 1 200km away from the capital, Luanda.
Apart from a $5 000 (R80 000) fine, Ajax will also face a two-year ban from all CAF interclub competitions ( see box).
However, this could be a blessing in disguise, as they will now be able to concentrate on their league programme. The Urban Warriors have been struggling on the domestic front and find themselves at the wrong end of the table. Roger De Sá’s men are fighting for survival.
The remaining three South African clubs will be determined to make their presence felt by all and sundry when they embark on their African safari next weekend.
Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs will be engaged in their second successive continental excursions in the prestigious CAF Champions League, while Bidvest Wits will embark on a campaign in the Confederation Cup.
All three will be hoping not only to emulate Orlando Pirates but to surpass the Buccaneers, who reached the finals of both competitions but failed at the last hurdle each time. Pirates lost to Al Ahly in the final of the Champions League and last year suffered the same fate at the hands of Tunisian giants Étoile du Sahel in the Confederation Cup.
The South African sides are playing away from home in the first leg at the weekend.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane is undertaking his second African safari, and is determined to make amends for last year’s loss to TP Mazembe in the second round.
Downs are pitted against Zimbabwean League champions Chicken Inn and the Brazilians should fancy their chances of progressing to the next round.
Mosimane’s chief concern though, will be the congested Absa Premiership programme, as they will be faced with three games in seven days.
They travel to Free State Stars this afternoon before visiting Pirates on Wednesday; they then travel to Zimbabwe.
Downs are currently basking in the glory of a 17-game unbeaten run in all competitions. They last tasted defeat at the end of September when they went down to Golden Arrows in a league game.
It is an open secret that Downs president Patrice Motsepe wants to conquer the continent, and Mosimane is well aware of his boss’ ambitions.
Chiefs will travel to the Comoro Islands to play Champions League rookies Volcan Club de Moroni.
This will be Steve Komphela’s debut in continental competition as a coach and he will be eager to make a lasting impression, particularly after the club failed to make it to the second round last year under his predecessor, Stuart Baxter.
Amakhosi should also fancy their chances against the lesser-known foes, even though their domestic form has not been convincing lately.
After coming under attack for not taking continental competitions seriously, the spotlight will once again fall on Gavin Hunt’s men when they tackle Light Stars of Seychelles.
Last year Wits went down to Royal Leopards of Swaziland in the first round. With their league performances not entirely convincing, the Clever Boys have lots to do.
Hunt has brought in experienced players who have played continental football before and he will rely on the likes of Daine Klate, Elias Pelembe and Bongani Khumalo to beat Light Stars.
That’s if Wits takes this tournament seriously at all – they may decide to use fringe players to give them some experience.
ON A MISSION of Sundowns
EAGER ... MAYBE Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt
READY Steve Komphela of Kaizer Chiefs