SA champs prove chumps in Africa
PRETORIA – THE debate whether the Absa Premiership, the most lucrative league in the continent, can lay claim to being the most competitive has resurfaced following the recent ouster of Mamelodi Sundowns from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League.
The Pretoria side has become the latest side team from South Africa to fail to reach the lucrative league stage of the continent’s prime club tournament, bowing out on the away goals rule after playing two-all over two legs against Association Sportive Vita of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Following the debacle, the league leaders have been relegated to the second tier Confederations Cup where they will face Ghanaian side SC Medeama next month.
Outgoing Absa Premiership champions, Kaizer Chiefs, fared worse- succumbing to Asec Mimosas of the Ivory Coast (1-0 over two legs).
It was a similar, if not more tragic, story in the previous campaign.
In the 2015 CAF Champions League, Sundowns crashed out in the first round (3-2 on aggregate), coincidentally against another Congolese outfit and eventual winners, TP Mazembe.
Chiefs maintained the script all falling in the first round as three-time champions, Morocco’s Raja Casablanca, made easy work of them for a 3-0 aggregate win.
The fact that Sundowns are the only team remaining in Africa leaves a bitter taste than offering solace considering apart from Chiefs, fellow Premiership sides, Bidvest Wits and Ajax Cape Town have been sent packing out of the Confederations Cup earlier this campaign.
As far as the South African teams’ participation in Africa is concerned, only Orlando Pirates have offered hope, famously winning the then-African Cup of Champions in 1995 at the expense of Asec but lost the final to Al Ahly (Egypt) 2013.
The Soweto outfit lost last season’s Confederations Cup to Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia.
The failure by local clubs to emulate Pirates’ spirited campaigns has left football pundits questioning the competitiveness of the Absa Premiership.
Do local clubs find playing in the domestic league more rewarding than toiling in Africa?
“If you look closely at Sundowns’ progress in the Champions League, you will realize that they didn’t replicate the same form that they produced locally because Africa was a different ball game,” local coach, Rodwell Dhlakama seems to agree.
“They needed a last minute goal (via a penalty) against Zimbabwe champions Chicken Inn. While they slightly improved against AC Leopards of Congo whom they eliminated 3-1 on aggregate, it was always going to be tough against a team from the DRC because that country has more competitive league than ours. Remember it is the same league which has TP Mazembe.”
He says South African teams need to be tougher physically and mentally when playing in Africa.
“They have to exude confidence and avoid playing second fiddle football. It is experience that Sundowns lacked,” Dhlakama says.
Staunch Sundowns supporter, Austin Mahlangu, believes the Brazilians were not good enough.
“What I realized is the need to be mentally strong to win African competitions. AS Vita were well prepared for the match only marring the performance by frustrating Sundowns players through feigning injuries and delaying tactics,” says Mahlangu.
Sundowns forward, Khama Billiat, says the league contenders have learnt valuable lessons.
“We need to be strong in taking our chances because that is vital as the goals are very important in the games. We should convert more chances than we are doing now,” the Zimbabwean says.
“We are positive about it and we will keep on going, we are fighters at the end of the day,” adds Billiat.
Sundowns begin their Confeds Cup campaign next month against Ghana’s SC Medeama.
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