Sport

Chiefs need to hit hard to keep African dream alive

Mark Gleeson

Kaizer Chiefs face a massive test of character if they want to advance to the group phase of the African Champions League.

Chiefs have had their noses ahead for most of the campaign, keeping their fans happy.

Kaizer Chiefs's attempt to keep alive their African Champions League dream on Saturday night will be a massive test of character for a side whose mental strength has often previously been questioned.

They must claw back a three-goal deficit to AS Vita Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo if they are to advance to the group phase and get to share in a considerable pot of marketing and television rights revenue with minimum guarantee of R4.3-million.

The margin of Chiefs' defeat in last Sunday's first leg in Kinshasa was a surprise as the club battled with the heat, the Astroturf and made costly defensive mistakes. But they also squandered good chances to get an away goal, oftentimes so vital in these difficult circumstances.

It means that their coach Stuart Baxter is bullish enough to suggest a come-from-behind triumph is possible, even if Chiefs must win by four clear goals to advance on the aggregate.

"By the time they scored their first chance we had created about two chances already. We had two big chances that we couldn't convert.

"We will have to hit them with an early goal at home to get back into the game," said the coach on the club's return from the Congolese capital. "If anyone thinks the tie is over, they must think again."

Dealing with adversity
But Baxter has never really seen his side deal with major adversity. His first season went swimmingly with Chiefs ending a long drought and taking the league and cup double, able even to afford to lose their last league game of the season and still emerge champions.

This season they have had their noses ahead for most of the campaign, watching as the chasing pack stumble in their wake, the setbacks coming of their own accord.

In the preceding years under Vladimir Vermezovic and Muhsin Ertugral, Chiefs were often found wanting in the bigger clashes, mentally fragile when the stakes seemed insurmountable.

It contrasts a lot with the gutsy performances that Orlando Pirates have frequently displayed, especially en route to last year's Champions League final.

The portrayal of pampered prima donnas contrasted with street fighters might be exaggerated but there have not been too many displays of stoicism from Chiefs over the past few years.

Saturday's second leg at Soccer City is a great chance to debunk that image in circumstances of great potential drama. Chiefs will likely face a stadium half-filled with their own fans and the rest with expatriates eager to savour the swagger that will certainly come with a Congolese triumph.

Elimination for Chiefs means they will drop down to the African Confederation Cup, and play another knockout round tie next month.

The Confederation Cup is the continent's second trophy and one with limited prize money, certainly nothing like the Champions League, where the winners earn R16-million, R10.7-million for the runner-up, R7.5-million for the semifinalists, R5.4-million for the teams who finish third in the two groups and R4.3-million for those clubs who finish the league phase right at the bottom of the standings.

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