Absa Premiership

SA trio begin their CAF campaigns

2017-02-10 15:13
Gavin Hunt (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Bidvest Wits, SuperSport United and Platinum Stars begin their 2017 African club missions this weekend in the CAF Confederation and Champions League competitions.

Bidvest Wits are taking part in the Champions League, along with Mamelodi Sundowns, who as defending champions have a bye from the preliminary round fixtures.

Sundowns start their title defence in March, against either KCCA from Uganda or Primeiro de Agosto from Angola.

Platinum Stars earned their spot in the Confederation Cup after finishing third in the league, while SuperSport's Nedbank Cup victory booked their a spot in the same competition.

Saint-Louisienne v Bidvest Wits (Champions League preliminary round first-leg, Saturday 11 February, Stade Theophile Hoarau, 7pm CAT)

The Clever Boys have failed rather dismally in Africa in recent years - in 2016 they exited the first round of the 2016 Confederation Cup after losing 7-3 to Tanzanian outfit Azam FC over two legs, while the previous year they squandered a 3-0 lead to lose to Royal Leopards of Swaziland.

The club's commitment to performing on the continent has been called into question, but perhaps the prospect of taking part in the continent's most prized club competition rather than the Confederation Cup, will inspire Gavin Hunt's side to try and match Sundowns' exploits of last season.

"I will field a strong team. We won't take this game for granted. It's much easier and better for us to get into the group stages than it was in the past," Hunt told the Daily Sun after a 5-0 midweek win over Ajax kept his team top of the domestic table.

If the Johannesburg side can navigate past Reunion Island (situated east of Madagascar with a population of less than a million) minnows Saint-Louisienne, they will face record eight-time champions in Ah Ahly in the first round.

"If we win two games we reach the group stage. I've played Al Ahly before and know what they are all about. We have to try to get to the next round before thinking about them," said Hunt.

"Can we keep going like this for five weeks? I don't know, we don't have a big squad. I just hope we're able to keep going. But these are exciting times for Wits and we are looking forward to the challenge."

Platinum Stars v Uniao Desportiva do Songo Wits (Confederation Cup preliminary round first leg, Saturday 11 February, Royal Bafokeng Stadium, 8pm SA time)

Uniao Desportiva do Songo are based in the far north of Mozambique, close to the Malawi border. The 20-hour bus trip from Maputo means that they may be forced to play the second leg game in the Mozambique capital rather than at home, as per CAF rules on travel.

Other than that, very little is known about the Mozambique 2016 cup champions. Stars coach Cavin Johnson admits he and his technical team were having problems while doing their research.

When asked by TMG Digital about his knowledge of the opposition, he replied: "Nothing. We have been searching since the draw for any video footage and information about the team and there is nothing at all‚ so we are going in a bit blind."

With a tough and unpredictable away trip to come, Stars, who have won just three of 15 matches in the league this season, will no doubt be focussed on securing a healthy first leg lead as a buffer against whatever is to come away from home.

Association Sportive Saint-Michel Elgeco Plus v SuperSport United (Confederation Cup preliminary round first leg, Sunday 12 February, Stade Municipal de Mahamasina, 1.30pm CAT)

This will be ASSM Elgeco Plus's third time in the Confederation Cup, the Madagascar league runners-up for 2016 having never gone beyond the preliminary round before.

SuperSport, meanwhile, seem a renewed force under coach Stuart Baxter and are leading the standings in South Africa after thrashing golden Arrows 5-2 in midweek.

But veteran midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane says nothing can be taken for granted on the continent - the likes of Sundowns and Wits have previously lost to Madagascan opposition, and has rallied is compatriots to wear their hearts on their sleeves on Sunday.

"The team is looking good and ready for the match on Sunday," 34-year-old Letsholonyane told the club's website.

"We know that playing in CAF tournaments is not an easy task. One needs to endure without showing any fear.

"We know all about the conditions on the continent but we must be brave about the whole thing."

Read more on:    caf confederation cup  |  psl  |  soccer


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