Platinum Stars face the biggest match of their short history when they host the African club of the century, Al Ahly, in an African Champions League showdown at Atteridgeville’s Super Stadium on Saturday.
The third-round, first-leg match kicks off at 3.30pm.
Facing the holders of the Champions League title — arguably the best and most successful club side in Africa — does not scare Stars, who were only founded in 1998. They were previously known as Mapate Silver Stars, Tycoon Silver Stars and HP Silver Stars before being renamed at the start of this season under their new North West province owners.
Assistant coach Gavin Johnson was on Thursday brimming with confidence. Stars, he said, are more than ready to cause a major upset in the second leg at the Cairo National Stadium in two weeks. ”This is also the biggest game for me and the players and, like the players, I am looking forward to it.”
It will not be the first time Johnson is involved in a similar showdown against the Egyptian giants. He was assistant coach under Gordon Igesund at Mamelodi Sundowns last year when Downs held Al Ahly to a 2-2 draw at home but lost the return leg in the Egyptian capital 2-0.
Said Johnson: ”Having been involved with Al Ahly at a similar stage last year has given me an idea what we are up against. But we are confident. We have worked hard and believe we are in with a chance of beating Al Ahly.”
Johnson and head coach Miguel Gamondi have transformed Stars since they took charge of an ailing side in December. They have pulled Stars from relegation candidates to a respectable sixth position in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) with five league games to play.
He reckons the match will be won and lost in midfield, and he is banking on the likes of Edward Williams, one of the unsung heroes at Stars, and the ever-reliable Stanley Kgatla and Ivan Zwane to close down the dangerous Al Ahly attack and midfield.
Said Johnson: ”We are expecting a hard game, not so much a physical clash. Although Al Ahly are a formidable side, there won’t be tackles from behind like we see in the PSL. It will be up close and personal but we are more than up for the challenge.”
Stars have in Colombian striker Luis Renteria a star in the making. Since joining the club at the start of second round, he has made his presence felt. Johnson said: ”Renteria is quality and will keep getting better and better. But we also have Simba Marumo back from injury.”
He pointed out that Stars are not a one-man team in attack. They have Namibian international Henrico Botes, evergreen Dingane Masanabo plus young Bradley Grobler.
He is hoping that former Orlando Pirates striker Phumudzo Manenzhe will recover from an injury he suffered against another of his former clubs, BidVest Wits, last Wednesday, where he helped Stars win 2-0.
Meanwhile, Sundowns meet Al Hilal in Sudan on Saturday night in their third-round, first-leg Champions League clash.
The Brazilians go into the game in high spirits after beating neighbours SuperSport United in a Pretoria league derby played at the Super Stadium on Tuesday night.
Said coach Trott Moloto: ”We are well prepared. It will not be an easy 90 minutes, but we are ready.”
Ajax Cape Town host Cameroon cup holders Mount Cameroon in the first leg, second round, of their African Confederations Cup clash at the Athlone Stadium on Saturday night. Kick-off is at 8pm.
But Ajax are in the dark about what to expect as well as the strength and weaknesses of their opponents.
Said Urban Warriors media spokesperson Mark Meyer: ”We are desperately trying to get information on our opponents. All we know is they have recently won the national cup in Cameroon.” — Sapa