Will southern Africa have its club championship?
Harare ‑ Almost 40 years to the day, Dynamos of Zimbabwe beat South Africa’s Orlando Pirates 7-6 in an explosive two-legged showdown to be crowned the kings of Southern African football, the superpowers of the game in the region could plunge into the trenches next year to battle for the Cosafa Club championship.
Organisers of the new tournament, which would be Southern Africa’s version of a Champions League, have revealed that they could run the inaugural edition of the tourney as early as next year should they secure the right sponsorship package and tie television deals.
The initial plan is to have the tournament played at a central venue with South Africa hosting the tourney during its first years although it could then be moved to other countries depending on its success and their capacity to host.
Cosafa chief operating officer Sue Destombes revealed last week that the plans to have a tournament for the top clubs in the region have been discussed for a year now.
“The new competition will have big cash prizes. The tournament will be hosted by South Africa for the first few years. Full details about the tournament will be announced at a later stage,” said Destombes.
“But once sponsorship is secured and all the pieces are in place, then we’ll certainly go back and engage again with them.
“We are concerned that clubs in the region are usually eliminated in the preliminary rounds when it comes to the two competitions.”
Only one Southern African club, Soweto giants Pirates, have won the CAF Champions League with the Buccaneers conquering the continent in 1995 when a priceless goal by Jerry “Legs of Thunder” Sikhosana gave them a shock win over ASEC Mimosas in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
Dynamos came close in 1998 when they reached the final of the same competition only to lose, ironically to ASEC Mimosas, after a controversial second leg in Abidjan, in which the Glamour Boys’ skipper Memory Mucherahowa was knocked unconscious before the match and could not play the crucial game, ended 2-4 in favour of the Ivorians.
But while Pirates reached the Champions League final last year, after a brave campaign in which their gritty performance captured the imagination of the entire region, they could not leap the final hurdle as they were beaten by serial winners Al Ahly of Egypt.
However, there is no team from Southern Africa in the group stages of this year’s Champions League.
Both Kaizer Chiefs and Dynamos, who carried the hopes of the region, were knocked out by feisty Congolese club, AS Vita, with the South African club being eliminated, despite a brave show at home where they won 2-0, while the Harare giants succumbed to a disputed penalty in Kinshasa.
Chiefs’ coach, Stuart Baxter, was unhappy with the way the referee handled his side’s home tie against the Congolese while DeMbare coach, Callisto Pasuwa, cried foul over the penalty that the Malawian referee gave to AS Vita in Kinshasa.
“We get the second goal, hope the ref is counting the second the keeper took, but three minutes was a smack in the face,” said Baxter.
“My biggest regret is that, when the world sees officiating like tonight, they laugh at Africa.”
There has always been a feeling across Southern Africa that clubs from this part of the continent get a raw deal when they take on their counterparts from the Central, Western and Northern parts of Africa in either the Champions League or the CAF Confederation Cup.
A number of fans, who feel that they have been betrayed by a cruel system that has created an uneven playing surface in the two main inter-club tournaments on the continent, have, for a long time now, petitioned the authorities to organise a championship for Southern African teams.
Leading Zimbabwe sports consultant, Shepherd Chiware, told The Southern Times that a Champions League for Southern Africa was a good idea but its success will depend entirely on whether the South African clubs embrace it.
“It’s a very good idea because it will give us an indicator of which country has the strongest league, strongest teams because there has always been this boardroom battle for supremacy with fans in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa all laying claim to having the strongest teams in their leagues,” said Chiware.
“There is growing disillusionment, especially among the supporters, about the Champions League and the Confederation Cup because they feel that Fair Play is being compromised in these competitions and their teams are always given a raw deal.
“I’m pretty sure that a tournament for the top clubs in Southern Africa will be a good move because the Dynamos fans have always been waiting for a clash against Chiefs, and they have this bullish mentality that they will win that tie, and I’m pretty sure that the fans of Nkana and Zanaco in Zambia also want to see a clash against either DeMbare or Pirates.
“Then you have the Malawian clubs who haven’t been playing in either the Champions League or Confederation Cup for about a decade now because they can’t afford the crippling cost that comes with playing on the continent and this mooted tournament will give them a chance to compare where their football lies when they also take on other clubs from the Southern African region.
“But I think we can all get excited but for this tournament to be a success depends on the buy-in it gets from the South African clubs because that’s where the big money is and if the companies there can back it, the clubs there take it seriously and SuperSport also comes on board, we can have a successful tournament.”