African league costs dampen enthusiasm

Return to form: Sundowns lost 1-0 to Zimbabwe’s Chicken Inn recently in the first leg of their Champions League play-off but they should get their fans cheering in the second leg at home this weekend. (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo)

Return to form: Sundowns lost 1-0 to Zimbabwe’s Chicken Inn recently in the first leg of their Champions League play-off but they should get their fans cheering in the second leg at home this weekend. (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo)

Three referees flying in from the Comoros Islands to handle one of the four African club competition ties in South Africa this weekend will cost Bidvest Wits a hefty R150 000 in air fares and allowances. The bill for the match officials is for the home club’s pocket.

Kaizer Chiefs spent R1.4-million chartering a plane to the Comoros earlier this month for the first leg of their African Champions League tie and, by the time they have played two legs against Angola’s Sagrada Esperanca in the African Confederation Cup, the bill for Ajax Cape Town will be about R800 000.

It is no surprise, then, that participation in the annual pan-African competitions fills club owners with increasing dread and their lack of enthusiasm permeates the entire club.

It is the primary cause, in a country where insularity still runs deep, for the lack of success in either the Champions League or the Confederation Cup over more than 20 years of participation now by South African teams.

Mamelodi Sundowns have much deeper pockets, which fuels a contrasting outlook. They are the only club who have an enthusiastic view about continental competition and have not hid their ambition to do well in the Champions League.

They spent millions building a squad of considerable depth not only to withstand the rigours of all the travel and hostile environs, but also to try to win it while at the same time keeping up success on the local front.

Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane at one stage had three players for each position, expensively assembled, but he never developed any convincing balancing act that would allow him to be competitive on several fronts.

He is a man for consistency and rarely fiddles with a winning team, which is ultimately a major ingredient in the recipe for success.

Sundowns are only one of the South African quartet in this year’s African club competition who did not win away from home on the opening weekend. Ajax, Chiefs and Wits are all comfortably placed to go through their respective ties on Saturday with a measure of comfort and still be able to rest many key players for domestic duty next week.

Sundowns trail Chicken Inn of Bulawayo by a single goal from the first leg of the first round tie in Bulawayo a fortnight ago. It was a surprise setback, given that Sundowns had gone 19 games without defeat locally and were up against a Zimbabwean side who had not yet started their new season. Their league calendar runs from March to November.

But the undercooked Chicken Inn won, albeit by a single goal, to rattle Sundowns and emphasise the perils of the Champions League, even if it is a relatively sedate trip to Bulawayo.

They should win the return in Atteridgeville but will not be able to risk any indulgence. Zimbabwean football loves nothing better than sticking one up their “arrogant” southern neighbours.

If all the Premier Soccer League clubs advance, as expected, they face a second-round assignment next round when all play the first leg at home and travel away for the return seven days later.

Sundowns will play AC Leopards from the Congo and Chiefs are likely to meet Asec Abidjan of Côte d’Ivoire in the Champions League. Ajax will go to Mozambique to meet Desportivo Maputo and Wits will travel to Tanzania where their opponents will be Azam.

But this will only be confirmed once Saturday’s ties are out the way.

 

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