Leonardo Castro knows Chiefs have a tough job in their Confederation Cup match. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
Kaizer Chiefs will enter the lions’ den that is Levy Mwanawasa Stadium this afternoon with a few lions of their own 
 lions who know how to survive the eat-or-be-eaten nature of continental football.

Those lions, Leonardo Castro argues, will need to utilise all their experience to help Amakhosi not only get past Zesco United but also win the CAF Confederation Cup.

The Zambian side host Chiefs in the first leg of the Confederation Cup play-offs before they visit FNB Stadium this coming Saturday for the return leg with a place in the group stage up for grabs.

Chiefs haven’t reached the group stage of this competition. They also haven’t won a trophy in the last three seasons.

Despite that, Castro has set himself the target of not only winning the Absa Premiership with Amakhosi but also winning the Confederation Cup.

He knows what it takes to win the continental title. He was part of the Mamelodi Sundowns team that won the 2016 CAF Champions League. That victory took a herculean effort, forcing the Brazilians to bring out the lions in themselves to devour the continent’s big dogs.

“This tournament requires you to fight,” Castro said. “This is a fight! Sometimes you go away and play on bad pitches but you still have to get a result. There are a lot of challenges in this competition. It is not easy.”

Levy Mwanawasa Stadium isn’t one of those bad pitches. The stadium in Ndola has world class facilities.

Khama Billiat, Castro’s partner up front, knows how this stadium sounds in full voice and he also knows how to silence it. The Zimbabwean forward scored the goal that silenced this venue in 2016 in Sundowns’ 2-1 loss. That away goal inspired the Brazilians to wrap up the tie in the home leg and book a place in the group stage.

Chiefs will be looking for a similar showing, but the Zambians are a tough nut to crack. They take the game to their opponents and attack them with speed.

They play possession-based football under coach George Lwandamina. Fighters like Billiat, Castro and Willard Katsande, who will return to the starting XI, will need to bring their A games if Amakhosi are to return with a positive result.

“Some of the players have experience of playing international tournaments,” Castro said.

“It’s not easy. Kaizer Chiefs now take this tournament seriously which means with the good and experienced players we have, we can make history with this club.

“We (as the experienced players) have shared our experience with the younger players and those who haven’t played in these competitions. “We have talked about the referees in away games.

“ It’s very, very bad. So we need to score as much as we can in the first leg because you’ll never know what will happen in the return game.”

Chiefs prepared well for this clash with two tough matches against Sundowns and Bidvest Wits, while the fringe players took part in a training match against German side Werder Bremen. Some of those fringe players, like Siphelele Ntshangase, could get a run as Amakhosi juggle competing on three fronts.

The presence of a new coach, Ernst Middendorp, will drive Amakhosi to make history with each player wanting to impress the German.

“In terms of training sessions, he (Middendorp) has got the structure for the players to follow on the field,” said Castro, who was critical of former coach Giovanni Solinas’s tactical acumen. “That makes a lot of difference.”

Sunday Tribune

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