Ten clubs battle for continental titles in landmark season for SADC football
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – A landmark season for SADC football clubs will see 10 teams, including continental lightweights Ferroviario de Beira of Mozambique and Mbabane Swallows of Swaziland, battling it out in the group stages of the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup tournaments this year.
The remarkable success stories keep alive a good run for clubs from this part of the continent which saw Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa defeating five-time Africans champions Zamalek of Egypt to be crowned champions of Africa last year.
Congolese giants TP Mazembe ensured that, for the first time in the history of the two inter-club competitions, SADC provided the winners of both tourneys in the same year in a show of superiority by clubs from the region.
Some respected football analysts have been detecting a shift in the balance of power on the continent that, until now, has been dominated by clubs from West and North Africa who had turned the two tournaments into their playground.
“Clearly, there is a shift in the balance of power and we have been seeing it for some years now where clubs from here no longer view themselves as inferior to their opponents from the west or north but now believe they can match them player for player,” Zimbabwe’s leading football commentator Charles Mabika told The Southern Times.
“Our clubs now go into these battles confident they can not only match their opponents but even beat them which was not the case some years ago when we were beaten even before the games had started.
“There is a bullish mood among our clubs now and the success of teams like Sundowns, Pirates and TP Mazembe has provided the inspiration and a template for how to succeed in these tough battles and the rewards are there for everyone to see.
“I believe we will see this trend of success continuing for some time and it’s good for our football because l can foresee European agents changing their focus, which has been on west and North African teams and coming down here to also have a look at the players who are providing these success stories.”
Sundowns are back in the expanded 16-team group stage to try and defend their CAF Champions League title which they won in style last year after destroying opponents from North Africa.
The Brazilians knocked out Ugandan giants Kampala City Council Authority in the elimination game after finding the strength to battle back from possible elimination to score the decisive goal in the final minutes in Kampala.
Sundowns’ success last year was built around the brilliance of Ugandan ‘keeper Denis Onyango, who was later named the best player plying his trade in Africa by CAF, after a good season for the veteran goalminder.
His Zimbabwean teammate Khama Billiat was also outstanding and was later rewarded with the award as the best in-field player plying his trade on the continent by CAF.
Another influential member of that side Keegan Dolly made a huge impression he ended up being snapped up by a French top-flight side. Pitso Mosimane won the Coach of the Year award.
Congolese giants TP Mazembe failed in their bid to fight for a sixth African Champions League crown, their fourth in the past eight years, after they were dumped from the tournament by CAPS United of Zimbabwe.
The defeat meant Mazembe dropped into the Confederation Cup, a tournament they won last year, and they flexed their muscles after beating former African champions JS Kabyle of Algeria in the biggest showdown of the elimination round.
The Lubumbashi giants should start as favourites to defend their crown in a tournament that also features Zesco United of Zambia who eliminated Enugu Rangers of Nigeria.
Last year Zesco United went all the way to the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League in a remarkable run for the club only for their fairy-tale to be ended by Sundowns in a Southern African battle.
South African clubs have also making their presence felt on the continent and they will have SuperSport United and Platinum Stars in the Confederation Cup group stages.
The biggest success story in this tournament was written by Mbabane Swallows who eliminated AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville.
The club from Mbabane were given a raw deal in Congo where they had a goal disallowed while their opponents kept getting favours from the match officials, including a corner kick when the ball had not crossed the line from which they got their goal.
The harsh treatment which Swallows received angered SuperSport football pundit and award-winning South African journalist Thomas Kwenaite who blasted the officiating on the Soccer Africa programme as diabolical.
Another veteran football analyst, Mamadou Guaye of Cote d’lvoire, used the same show to insinuate that the events in Congo-Brazzaville might have been influenced by some betting syndicates.
But Swallows, who were cheered by the AC Leopards fans as they left the stadium, hit back in Mbabane to erase that deficit and beat their opponents 3-1 to qualify for the group stages in a result that was cheered as a victory for football’s purity.
“Just having Swallows and Ferroviario de Beira among the last clubs standing is an amazing triumph in itself,” said Mabika.
Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa), CAPS United (Zimbabwe), Zanaco (Zambia), Ferroviario de Beira (Mozambique), AS Vita (DRC)
TP Mazembe (DRC), Zesco United (Zambia),Platinum Stars, SuperSport United (South Africa), Mbabane Swallows (Swaziland)