Johannesburg - Everything that could have gone wrong with SuperSport United’s preparation for Sunday afternoon’s CAF Confederation Cup final did go wrong.
United had to endure an almost six-hour wait at OR Tambo International Airport after their flight to Lubumbashi was delayed.
As a result, they had to cancel one of their two scheduled training sessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ahead of their match against defending champions TP Mazembe at their fortress, Stade TP Mazembe, which is expected to be full to capacity.
Six key players
They ruled out any possibility of sabotage from the host and put the blame squarely on the airline.
A livid coach Eric Tinkler could not contain his frustration and said he understood why SA Express were in the “kind of hole they are in. We didn’t have a plan for SA Express to delay the plane as long as they did. It was despicable,” said Tinkler.
All this on top of having to prepare without six key players. The five players who were with Bafana Bafana in Senegal arrived in South Africa on Thursday evening, while Jeremy Brockie, who was in Peru with New Zealand, only joined his team-mates at the airport on Friday morning.
United will be without three influential players for Sunday's encounter. Morgan Gould and Reneilwe Letsholonyane are suspended and Teboho Mokoena is out injured.
A defiant Tinkler said the difficulties they faced would make them stronger. He challenged his players to forget about their inadequate preparations and focus on the job at hand.
United only had one session at the match venue, which was not really a proper training session, but just to let them feel the pitch.
“It’s not like we haven’t planned everything. We have been working together for four months and what we are going to encounter is nothing new".
He said they would not use their failure to have a training session as an excuse for not doing well in Sunday’s game.
“It is all about how the players are going to apply themselves and enjoy the moment. I believe I have a squad that, if they apply themselves correctly, can win. This will be a fantastic opportunity for the youngsters to start their careers by winning a continental title. Also, this will be a great way for older guys to add to their collection of titles by winning this competition, which they have never won before. The motivation is there".
Tinkler said he was expecting a tight game, with Mazembe cautious in their approach, particularly after what happened when the two teams met in the group stages of the same tournament in June. The game ended in a 2-2 draw.
“We need to come here and get a positive result, which means we have to score away from home so that when we get home we protect what we have and add to that. A goalless draw will be a negative result. We want to come here and get a result, but we have to be focused and disciplined".
Tinkler said the two-legged final would give players who failed to qualify for the World Cup a chance to redeem themselves.
He said he was least worried about the atmosphere at the stadium as his players were accustomed to the hostile reception on the continent.
His main concern was officiating, based on his previous experience at the same venue. The match would be handled by Algerian officials.
Kickoff is at 15:30.