JOHANNESBURG – It's not quite the second bite of the cherry that would have meant most to them this season, but SuperSport United have another chance to prove they have staying power on Tuesday night.
Currently occupying top spot in Group D of their CAF Confederation Cup campaign, which includes title holders TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the South African side hosts the defending champions at the Lucas Moripe Stadium looking to put one foot in the quarterfinals with a win.
SuperSport failed in their quest to clinch the domestic Premier League during the 2016/17 season despite hogging the summit for several weeks, until a loss of form saw eventual champions Bidvest Wits leapfrog to the top as they slumped to fifth place.
The Confederation Cup is altogether a different kettle of fish compared to the league marathon. Matsatsantsa are presently pace-setters with five points from their three group games, and victory over Mazembe, a side they held to a 2-2 draw in Kinshasa two weeks ago, would make them early favourites to progress to the next phase.
“We have two big games this week which have different requirements in terms of performance,” said Kaitano Tembo.
The SuperSport assistant coach has had to step up quite a bit lately as Stuart Baxter has had to come and go because of his other commitment as Bafana Bafana mentor. Tembo was also referring to the Nedbank Cup final against Orlando Pirates in Durban on Saturday night.
It was Tembo, held in high esteem by the players given he is a former club captain and due to his current role in the technical team, who travelled to the DRC as Baxter stayed behind to prepare Bafana for their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations opening qualifier away to Nigeria last weekend, a historic 2-0 win.
“I think we were intimidated and unsettled there in the first 20 minutes,” Tembo recalled the trip to Stade TP Mazembe, which was packed to capacity as SuperSport clawed their way back from 2-0 down.
“But we settled down and realised they can be beaten and we forced them to make mistakes with the way we played our game. The crowd turned against them at some point and it favoured us as the away team. Sometimes that is the disadvantage of having such a huge following.
“I know that we will be a lot calmer and more settled this time around because the conditions are different when we play at home, obviously.”
Mazembe wouldn’t have won this competition last year if they were not good travellers, and Tembo doesn't expect them to sit back, especially given that a place in the next round is still very much up for grabs.
“We expect them to come at us,” he said. “They like to have the ball and have good players (for their style), among them Tresor Mputu and their captain Rainford Kalaba.
“They are dangerous when it comes to one-on-one situations, and they, too, will be calmer as well because their huge following also puts them under pressure when they are at home.
“When they are playing away they are not under so much pressure.”
SuperSport will have a new coach when they play their next Confederation Cup clash following Tuesday's game against Mazembe, as Eric Tinkler officially takes over from Stuart Baxter on July 1 – the date for their match away to Horoya in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.
They round off their Group D fixture list six days later when they host Gabon’s CF Mounana, a team they thrashed 5-3 in Libreville last month.