Champions League ’tested Kaizer Chiefs’ character’ and this will help them make history
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JOHANNESBURG - KAIZER Chiefs’ Champions League campaign “has tested the players' character”. And that’s why interim coach Arthur Zwane is adamant that his charges are capable of achieving the improbable by reaching their first ever final in the pan-african competition.
Chiefs endured a disappointing outing in the domestic league. But they’ve been a different team in the Champions League. They reached the group stage, knockout stage and semi-finals for the first time in the competition.
But that wasn't as easy as it sounds. They needed to dig deep, especially away from home. They held Guineans Horoya AC to a draw away as they finished second in the group and progressed to the quarter-finals, where they met Tanzanian giants Simba SC.
To reach the last four Chiefs won 4-0 at home before winning the tie 4-3 on aggregate. Chiefs’ mentality of stepping up to the plate when wearing the underdog’s cap also prevailed last weekend, defeating Wydad Casablanca 1-0 away.
That result has given them the advantage heading to the return leg at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg tonight. And that’s why Zwane believes that they have what it takes to reach their maiden Champions League final, looking at the number of storms they have weathered.
“This tournament has tested our boys’ character from the beginning,” Zwane said.
“Even at some point, we had doubts because the results were not coming. But participating and going as far as the semi-finals, that alone tells you we are a good team (that can win matches).”
He added: “Some might see differently and say that we were fortunate enough to find ourselves in the semi-finals. That might be a fluke to them, but the fact is that the boys did everything.
“If you’ve been to Tanzania, a lot of behind-the-scenes things tested these boys.”
For some time, Chiefs were said to be negligent of continental football, having only won the Nelson Mandela Cup (also known as the Africa Cup Winners’ Cup) in 2001. As a result, the volume increased on such talk after Mamelodi Sundowns won the African crown in 2016.
The Brazilians were only the second South African top-flight team to win the continental crown after Orlando Pirates who achieved that feat in 1995. But Zwane is convinced that claiming the Champions League title will prove their seriousness about continental football.
“I think all the players know the importance of winning this continental title. It’s been a while since we took part in the competition and, at some point, people started to believe we don’t want to take part in the (African) competitions,” he said.
“But that was not the case. When you are building, things might not go your way immediately – they might take a while. But at some point, even when you are still in the building process, you find yourself in the situation that we are in right now. Everyone is positive about this one.”
Despite the positivity in Chiefs’ camp, they can’t afford to be complacent against the two-time African champions. Wydad’s lowest finish in the competition was in the quarter-finals in the last five seasons, while they are sitting at the summit of their domestic league, the Botola Pro.