JOHANNESBURG – Kaizer Chiefs’ interim coach Arthur Zwane is wary of the threat posed by Champions League’s semifinal opponents Wydad Casablanca who are undefeated in their last 12 matches, but says he's banking on the mental strength of his players to help them.
After a turbulent outing in the domestic campaign, where they qualified for the top-eight on the last day of the season, Chiefs have enjoyed an impressive run in the Champions League. They reached their first group stage, quarterfinal and semifinal campaigns this term.
They’ll be hoping to achieve the improbable by reaching their first ever final as well, where they’ll meet either the defending champions Al Ahly or Esperance. But that’s easier said than done as they’ll have to pass through Wydad first in order to reach that feat.
The Moroccans are on a purple patch as they are undefeated in their last 12 matches in all competitions, while they are regulars in the knockout stage of the African competition. They’ve already met Chiefs in the group stage, trouncing them 4-0 the first leg in a neutral venue.
Amakhosi won 1-0 in the return leg at home. That win proved to be invaluable as Chiefs finished second in the group to qualify for the quarterfinal where they beat Simba 4-3 on aggregate. Chiefs will meet Wydad in the first leg away in Casablanca on Saturday.
“The opponents are a very competitive team - we are aware of that. But they also have their weaknesses and strengths, and we’ve tried to focus on the latter,” Zwane said. “We’ll also try to control their strengths. We know they like to play behind.”
Zwane continued: “If you create space for them, they’ll punish you. But we’ll try to control that – in front and behind. I think our mental strength will be key. We’ve got boys that have played in this competition before. (Samir) Nurkovic doesn’t stop running and working hard.”
Zwane alongside fellow interim coach Dillon Sheppard will be in charge of Chiefs away game, considering that coach Stuart Baxter is still waiting for his permit in order for him to officially commence his second stint at the club after replacing the recently sacked Gavin Hunt.
Zwane and Sheppard named a 21-man squad for their trip to North Africa on Wednesday with three notable absentees due to injuries: Lebogang Manyama, Khama Billiat and Dumisani Zuma. Zwane, though, is confident they’ll still be able to get the job done away from home.
“The preparations against Wydad are going well. So far, so good. We are well prepared. We are looking forward to the game, although we know that it won’t be an easy game. We’ll take the game to them, although we’ll be cautious so that we don’t concede,” he said.
Chiefs will host Wydad in the second leg at home on Saturday, June 26, at the FNB Stadium. By then, the Glamour Boys will be hopeful that they’ll have Baxter on the bench, although Zwane and Sheppard will go back to their original positions as assistant coaches.