Tax­ing time awaits SA clubs in CAF com­pe­ti­tions

CityPress - - Sport - TI­MOTHY MOLOBI ti­mothy@city­

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.”

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