Bidvest Wits head coach Gavin Hunt Photo: Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG – It’s not the “jungle” Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt predicted it would be when the Clever Boys were eliminated from the CAF Champions League by Al Ahly last month and downgraded to the less prestigious Confederation Cup, where they now face another Egyptian side in Smouha in the play-offs for the group stages.

Some would argue Wits might have a better chance of progressing over the two legs given that they will be more familiar having played a team from the same league not so long ago and that the poor hospitality often associated with travelling within the continent for these tournaments is unlikely.

When Hunt described the Confederation Cup as a “jungle”, the Wits coach probably thought the draw for the play-offs would be unkind. The long route to get to Alexandria for the second leg – scheduled a week following Saturday's home fixture in Johannesburg – can be considered the only raw deal, particularly when the Absa Premiership has such a tight timetable and Wits are among the teams playing catch-up. 

In Smouha, Wits host an outfit currently in fourth place in the Egyptian league and trail log leaders Al Ahly by an incredible 15 points.

There will be a premise that if the South Africans could frustrate the eight-time African Champions over the two legs a few weeks ago (Al Ahly qualified for the group stages with a 1-0 aggregate score), then Smouha shouldn’t be such a tough customer. But football isn’t that simple. But that argument has some merits. Hunt would have studied how Al Ahly did not allow them to find pockets of space in their midfield or defence to get the upper hand.

Home and away, Wits’ ball retention was superb, and would have been much better if their more skilful players in Phakamani Mahlambi and Gabadinho Mhango put more effort into troubling the opposition. 

They will most certainly get another opportunity to prove they can play at this level seeing that Hunt has promised not to tweak his squad too much for the rest of the season after the club’s shock Nedbank Cup exit, when they were beaten 5-4 on penalties by National First Division (NFD) side Jomo Cosmos.

The 18-man squad picked for that cup tie was made up mostly of fringe players, but the coach said he thought they were simply below par and did not deserve another chance. It’s possible Hunt will have a change of heart with Wits playing every three days, but he wasn’t having it earlier in the week.

“Something has to give because we can’t keep playing like this, and nobody played like this, even when they (Mamelodi Sundowns) won the Champions League they didn’t play like this."

The Star