Can SA’s ‘big three’ flex muscles among African giants?
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South Africa’s “big three” – Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns – will be hoping to make the country proud when they play the first leg of the quarter-finals in their respective continental competitions this weekend.
But that’s easier said than done as Sundowns and Chiefs will cross paths with Al Ahly and Simba SC in the CAF Champions League respectively, while Pirates will lock horns with Raja Casablanca in the Confederation Cup over two-legged ties.
CHIEFS V SIMBA SC – FIRST LEG FNB STADIUM
This is the furthest stage that Chiefs have reached in the competition.
Before that, they could not get past the group stage. Despite finishing second in Group C, Amakhosi will have ample reason to believe they can reach the semi-finals.
For them, this competition is about redemption. They’ve had a turbulent domestic season as they are in the bottom half of the standings, while their chances of finishing in the top eight look blurry as they can’t play consistently week in and week out.
They’ll need to be better organised against Simba, especially with their defence having let them down against Swallows this week. Simba like to capitalise on second balls, hence they pulled a historic victory over Al Ahly, the defending champions, at home.
Simba have been in the country for a few days. And they received a huge morale booster ahead of their clash against Amakhosi after Bernard Morrison, the former Orlando Pirates striker, linked up with his teammates on Wednesday after receiving his paperwork.
AL AHLY V SUNDOWNS – FIRST LEG AL-SALAM STADIUM
Sundowns’ outing in Egypt this evening is one for the books. Not only will they meet the Red Devils for the third time in a row in the knockout stage of the competition but they’ll come up against former coach Pitso Mosimane for the first time since his departure from Chloorkop.
Mosimane left the Brazilians last year after inspiring the team to a domestic treble. He was also the man who guided them to their first ever continental crown four-and-a-half years ago, following the triumph over another Egyptian giant Zamalek in the two-legged final.
In the absence of Mosimane, Sundowns were rampant in the competition this season. They won six matches, drew one and lost one. Sundowns’ strength lies in their striking contingent led by Peter Shalulile and country’s reigning Footballer of the Season Themba Zwane.
It’s logical that their focal point will be on the two players in search of a victory ahead of the second leg. Sundowns’ engine room, which consists of Rivaldo Coetzee, has to be at its best against Al Ahly. After all, the Egyptians are the reigning African champions under Mosimane.
Mosimane’s philosophy hasn’t changed at the African Club of the Century as he still wants his team to play “carpet football”. That’s why Sundowns have to close all the spaces in defence, especially with players such as Mohamed Magdy and Walter Bwalya clinical upfront.
PIRATES V CASABLANCA – FIRST LEG ORLANDO STADIUM
Pirates appeared unstoppable when they recorded four wins on the trot to win the MTN8. But since then, their domestic campaign has lacked consistency. They are out of the title race, trailing leaders Mamelodi Sundowns by 14 points, and were booted out of the Nedbank Cup.
But with their chances of finishing in the top three still in their hands, they will know that keeping a winning momentum on all fronts is what might help them to achieve their targets this season. In the Confederation Cup, though, they’ve been impressive after suffering one loss thus far.
At home they’ve been rampant in the competition. That’s why coach Josef Zinnbauer will have to call on his strikers to bring their scoring boots as he’ll know the importance of taking a healthy lead heading to Morocco – where there’s intimidation all round.
Casablanca’s progression to this stage of the competition has come through good organisation in defence and attack. They are the only team which has won all their six matches in the group stage, painting a picture of why they are favourites to win the competition for the second time.