Taxing time awaits SA clubs in CAF competitions
Continental success will come at a huge cost as three South African representatives are set to clock more than 83 800km in travel collectively between next month and July.
South African clubs have always complained about travelling on the continent as – in many instances – there are no direct flights to their destinations, which makes trips taxing as they have to go via other countries, spending hours in transit. On top of that, they have domestic fixtures to contend with.
Things will be no different this time around as Mamelodi Sundowns, SuperSport United and Platinum Stars travel to Africa’s eastern, northern, western and southern regions.
The defending CAF Champions League winners, Sundowns, will clock the most kilometres with trips to Tunisia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which should be the most demanding of them all.
The Brazilians will renew their rivalry with AS Vita Club. Last year, Sundowns were reinstated into the tournament after Vita were expelled for fielding an ineligible player. The pair is in Group C.
Downs also have Ethiopia’s Saint George and Espérance of Tunisia on their menu.
For their CAF Confederation Cup fixtures, Stars have two trips to north Africa awaiting them as they will visit Tunisia and Algeria. They also have a regional derby with Swaziland’s Mbabane Swallows. At the end of their African safari, they will have travelled about 30 160km.
Trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Guinea await United as they try to emulate Sundowns.
Both Stars and United said they were inspired by the Brazilians after they lifted the Champions League trophy last year.
Stars’ coach Cavin Johnson and United’s mentor Stuart Baxter said Sundowns motivated them to go full steam.
“When Sundowns got to the final, I am sure the players were talking to each other and there was unity in the country, and this is what they want to create. It was a good feeling and we want to create the same vibe,” Baxter recently told City Press.
The Englishman went as far as dismissing reports that he was not taking continental football seriously. This is after he failed to progress with Kaizer Chiefs in both tournaments in 2015.
“Those were perceptions that people made a big deal about when I was at Chiefs because we took an under-strength team. But that was the club’s decision, not mine. I have approached it the same way,” said Baxter.
“When you get this far, you believe you can get through if you get a decent draw. Sometimes you need the luck of a draw so you don’t have to travel the length and breath of the continent.”
Johnson said he sought some advice from Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane and Roger De Sá, who took Orlando Pirates to the final of the Champions League in 2013, and Eric Tinkler, who was also with the Buccaneers in the final of the Confederation Cup in 2015.
While hailing his side’s progression in the competition, Johnson has challenged his players to bring their great performance to the domestic league. He is worried by his charges’ below-par display in the Absa Premiership after they lost three consecutive league games.
With the CAF Confederation Cup group stages only beginning this month, Johnson said they would channel all their efforts into improving their position on the log.
He said theirs has been a good ride so far and they wanted more.
“After getting a taste of what it is like, we want to go as far as we can in the competition. Our players are maturing as some of them had never travelled outside the country, and now they have been to three different countries.”
He said the most challenging aspect of the competition had been to get out of the roundrobin stages and qualify for the group stages.
“It is difficult before the group stages because there is no television. Officiating has been the biggest challenge because you get to Mozambique and you find Portuguese-speaking officials, or French-speaking officials in Ivory Coast.”
He said Stars conceded penalties in Mozambique and Ivory Coast, and the conditions were shocking in Uganda.
“But these challenges have made our players tough as they got out of their comfort zones and they were forced to think out of the box.”