Giants back on the prowl
Soweto giants Orlando Pirates were the last team from southern Africa to win the Champions League when they beat Asec Mimosas in dramatic fashion in 1995. Jerry Skhosana, known as the Legs of Thunder, fired home the priceless goal in Abidjan to give Pirates a remarkable triumph in the flagship inter-club tournament in Africa. Since then, the best that southern African clubs have done is reach the final. Zimbabwe’s Glamour Boys, Dynamos, powered their way to the final in 1998 and again met Asec Mimosas but this time the Ivorians triumphed after a 4-2 aggregate score. That Asec team had players like Kolo Toure, who has now made a name for himself as a tough centreback at English giants Arsenal. Asec will be meeting another southern African opponent in the first round when they take on Namibian giant-killers Civics FC ‘ the team that wrote one of the best stories of the preliminary round matches. The Namibian champions crushed seasoned Angolan representatives Sagrada Esperanca 4-0 in the first leg of their preliminary round clash at the Independence Stadium in Windhoek last month. Although they lost 1-2 in the return leg in Angola, Civics had just done enough to cruise to the next round on an impressive 5-2 aggregate victory. Civics’ show must have splashed a breadth of fresh air into Namibian football which, until now, was wandering in the wilderness owing largely to the national team’s failure to scale the dizzy heights of ’98 when the country made it to the Nations Cup finals in Burkina Faso. Civics owed their progress to the first round to striker William Chilufya who scored three times in the 4-0 destruction of Esperanca in Windhoek. Captained by the Amos Shiyuka, Civics showed great character to lose 1-2 in Angola – a very difficult venue for visiting teams – and that should give them confidence going into the next round. Very few teams go to the Citadela Stadium in Luanda and come out with a positive result – whether it is club or national football. Goals by Feffe and Sotto Mairor gave Esperanca their 2-1 win over Civics in Luanda but it was too little, too late to save the Angolans and overturn that heavy defeat in Windhoek. A showdown featuring a Namibian team and an Angolan side would be expected to go in favour of the Angolans. After all they are considered the better team and have a national side that is going to the World Cup finals in Germany while the Namibian national side has struggled in the Cosafa Castle Cup. Namibia is ranked the 154th most powerful football nation in the world while Angola is on number 75. The Angolan league is awash with cash and has attracted a number of foreign players like Zambian midfield star Ian Bakala while the Namibian league is considered very weak. But Civics turned the tables with their sensational demolition of Esperanca. Now the brave Namibian giant killers have to focus their attention on Asec Mimosas. And that certainly will not be an easy task. The Mimosas booked their place in the first round with a ruthless demolition of Sierra Leone champions East End Lions. Asec won 7-0 on aggregate after beating the Lions 3-0 in Sierra Leone and 4-0 in Abidjan. The Mimosas are a very experienced side and have emerged as one of the top clubs in Africa. But Civics have nothing to lose and if they show the same spirit they displayed against Esparanca then they should also fancy their chances of another major upset. No Namibian club has ever progressed to the second round of the Champions League and Civics know that they will have the whole country backing them in this incredible journey. For Angola this has been a terrible campaign. The Southern African giants will not have a representative in the Champions League after both their teams were swept away at the weekend. The other Angolan representative in the tournament ‘ AS Aviacao ‘ also crashed out on the very first hurdle after losing 0-1 at home to APRC of Rwanda. The Angolans had lost the first leg 2-3 in Kigali. Giants Orlando Pirates should fancy their chances of booking a place in the second round when they take on ASL 2000 of Mauritius. Pirates destroyed Mbabane Swallows 7-2 on aggregate in their preliminary round tie. Having won the first leg 5-0 in Mbabane, the second leg in Johannesburg was merely a formality. It ended 2-2 with the Swallows restoring some of their battered pride. Pirates, who are also in the race for the South African league championship, should prove too strong for ASPL 2000 who got their place in the first round after a 1-0 win over Coin Nord de Mitsamiloui of the Comoros. The two teams agreed to play only a one-legged tie and the Mauritius team won 1-0. Football in the Indian Ocean islands has been improving in recent years ‘ thanks in part to the influx of a number of players from the mainland, especially Malawi. Another club from the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar ‘ USCAFOOT ‘ have a date against South African glamour side Sundowns. Sundowns are one of the richest clubs on the continent ‘ thanks to the wealth of the club’s owner Patrice Motsepe. They crushed FC Likhopo of Lesotho 4-0 on aggregate in the previous round ‘ winning 1-0 in Maseru and 3-0 at home in Tshwane (Pretoria), where Manqoba Ngwenya scored twice. Inspirational Zimbabwe forward Peter Ndlovu was injured in that match and should be out of the weekend’s fixture after tearing his knee ligaments. With their strong squad, Sundowns should really do very well on the continent. Zimbabwe champions CAPS United squeezed into the first round on the away goals rule after they were held to a nervy goalless draw at home by Burundi champions Inter Stars. But the three goals that CAPS United scored in Bujumbura proved enough to power them into the first round. CAPS United are struggling to replace most of their star players who left the club ‘ some remaining behind in England after an exhibition match and the others moving elsewhere. Eight of the players who played for CAPS United in the Champions League last year are now based in England. Then they lost their Zambian captain Laughter Chilembe who has indicated that he wants to go back home after two years in Zimbabwe. Chilembe wants to play for Green Buffaloes. But CAPS United have another Zambian ‘ striker Boyd Chanda ‘ who is likely to make a huge impact this season. CAPS United have a number of new players who will obviously take time to blend into the side and club president Twine Phiri believes they will get better with time. The Harare giants will now take on crack Morocco side Raja Casablanca this coming weekend in the first leg of their first round tie. Not many are giving CAPS United to progress beyond the stage where they crashed last year at the hands of Zambian side Red Arrows. But Phiri believes that his team will become stronger with each passing game. “We showed in Burundi when we came back from three goals down in the last 10 minutes to level the game 3-3 that we have the character to play in foreign lands. “We will give it our best shout against Raja and hopefully we will win the tie. “We have the advantage of playing the second leg back home in Harare and it will be a very interesting tie,” said Phiri. CAPS United are not the only Southern African team taking on North African opposition this weekend. Zambian champions Zanaco, who did well to beat Tanzania 3-2 on aggregate, take on former African champions JS Kabylie in their first round tie. Mozambique, who now lead the race to host the 2010 Nations Cup finals, have interest in the competition and Ferroviario will take on Ghanaian giants Asante Kotoko. For the giants of Southern African football, this is certainly the time to stand up and be counted. The region is watching.