Champions League nightmare for region


Harare- TWENTY years after Orlando Pirates were crowned kings of the continent, Southern Africa was left to conduct a painful inquest, as to why its club football is falling behind the rest of the continent, after all its representatives failed to clear the first round of the 2015 CAF Champions League.

Pirates’ triumph in 1995 was followed three years later by a remarkable run by Dynamos of Zimbabwe who reached the final of the CAF Champions League, only to fall 2-4 to ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire in a controversial second leg tie in Abidjan. Mamelodi Sundowns marched to the final, of the CAF Champions League, in 2001, but fell to record winners, Al Ahly of Egypt while, two years ago, Pirates were back in the final but, this time, could not win and transform themselves into champions. However, there are concerns that club football in Southern Africa is being left behind by the rest of the continent and, this year, all the region’s representatives failed to negotiate the first round of the biggest inter-club tourney on the continent.

While Southern African clubs failed this year, in a miserable weekend for the region, 11 North African sides successfully negotiated their way into the second round of the biggest football club tournament on the continent.

North African giants – Egypt (Al Ahly and Smouha), Algeria (USM Alger and ES Setif), Tunisia (Esperance and CS Sfaxien), Sudan (Al Hilal and El Merreikh) and Morocco (Raja Casablanca and Moghreb Tetouan) – still have two teams each in the second round of the CAF Champions League.

The DRC, with their two clubs – Sanga Balende and TP Mazembe – still in the competition, has more representatives, still in the running for the biggest prize in club football in Africa than the entire Southern African region. Balende and Mazembe are three of the Central African sides still in the competition while West Africa provides Stade Malien of Mali and AS Kaloum of Guinea who knocked out Zambian champions ZESCO United 5-4 after a penalty shootout in the first round.

“Our CAF Champions League journey has come to a painful end. A game well played with the boys giving it their all. Thank you for the support,” a post on the official ZESCO United Facebook page said following the team’s painful elimination.

Big Bullets of Malawi battled in a 1-1 draw against Al Hilal in Blantyre but the Malawian giants, making a comeback in the Champions after a lengthy absence, could not recover from a 0-4 mauling in the first leg, and the stalemate at home was not enough to save their campaign.

Another Sudanese giant, Al Merreikh, also ended the campaign for Angolan side, Kabuscorp, in their first round contest.

The two clubs from South Africa, whose ABSA Premiership is the richest league in Africa – Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns – were sent reeling out of the CAF Champions League first round by Raja Casablanca of Morocco and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mamelodi Sundowns were always up against it, having carried a slender 1-0 lead into the cauldron of Lubumbashi, and a 1-3 defeat ended their hopes of a place in the second round. There was a full-house at the Mazembe Stadium and after Zambian international Rainford Kalaba cancelled out Zimbabwean international Khama Billiat’s goal, scored in South Africa in the first leg, there was no stopping the Congolese giants as they powered to an impressive 3-1 win.

Sundowns coach, Pitso Mosimane, conceded defeat but said his team should not be ashamed of losing to the four-time champions of Africa and need to pick some vital lessons from their adventure on the continent.

“We needed one goal but couldn’t get it, we have to accept it (and move on),” Mosimane said on his club’s website. “The game was a game of two halves, we played well in the second half hence we managed to score. For us to concede three goals was not good, we did not play well in the first half, we were a lit bit nervous. “In the second half we started playing our own Sundowns game, they were panicking in the end, we need to play in this space again, we need to be back again, we will be back and the team is growing and it was a good experience for us. “The refereeing was fair, we did not have a refereeing problem, after the match I went to congratulate them (referees), it’s unusual to find such a refereeing performance, especially in an intimidating stadium of a fully-packed Mazembe Stadium. “For us, it’s a learning curve, we played a team that has won the Champions League four times and they showed that experience today, we have been away (from the Champions League) for seven years, we were a little bit naïve in terms of mentality and attitude.”

Chiefs’ coach, Stuart Baxter, whose team crashed to a 0-3 aggregate defeat at the hands of Raja Casablanca, despite matching the Moroccans in their backyard, said the outcome would have been different if they had taken their chances. “We played well tonight but we didn’t take our chances,” Baxter told his club’s official website after a 0-2 defeat in Casablanca, with Nigerian international Ishodaro Osaguona scoring twice and ensuring that the Amakhosi were beaten in both games of their showdown after a defeat in South Africa.

Crucially, over 180 minutes of their battle, Chiefs failed to score.

“Towards the end, we were pushing and pushing for the goal that we needed to get, at least, equal with Raja. That’s when they punished us on mistakes. “However, overall, I am proud of my team’s performance tonight. Let’s be honest, Raja have a good team. Congratulations to them for the win.” The ABSA Premiership has been battling to find sharpshooters, who can be a reliable supply of goals, and last season, the Golden Boot winner, Bernard Parker, the South African international, only had 10 goals to his credit, with three of them coming from the penalty spot.

April 2015
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