Kaizer Chiefs almost there, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates on a mission to conquer Africa
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JOHANNESBURG - The journey to conquer Africa will continue for the big three in South African football this weekend. But ahead of the Champions League and Confederation Cup quarter-final return legs only Kaizer Chiefs have one foot in the semi-finals.
Chiefs visit Simba holding a healthy 4-0 advantage. Mamelodi Sundowns have to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Al Ahly at home, while Orlando Pirates will need to score away to Raja Casablanca after their 1-1 draw in order to keep alive their chances of reaching the semis.
SIMBA V CHIEFS
Chiefs were the biggest winners in the Champions League quarter-finals last weekend. They thumped Simba 4-0 at the FNB Stadium to ensure that progressing to their first ever semi-finals is very much in their hands heading to the second leg in Dar es Salaam.
Chiefs know they can't leave any stone unturned especially knowing Simba’s history. The Tanzanians recorded one of the biggest comebacks in CAF history when they beat Mufulira Wanderers 5-0 in the return leg after a 4-0 defeat in the first outing. But that was four decades ago.
Coach Gavin Hunt will look to his striking contingent to continue where they left off against Simba. Striker Samir Nurkovic scored a brace, while his partner Leonardo Castro scored one goal. Defender Eric Mathoho opened the scoring spree in Johannesburg.
But it’s not about holding play high up in the field for Chiefs where Nurkovic and Castro will attempt to find an away goal. The defensive and goalkeeping departments have to be solid, especially with the Tanzanians set to throw everything at them, the kitchen sink included.
SUNDOWNS V AL AHLY
Arguably one of, if not the biggest, match of the season. Over the years, there’s been a growing rivalry between the southern and northern African giants in the hunt for continental glory. But there's greater significance to this season’s Champions League encounter.
Defending champions Al Ahly were propelled to glory by Pitso Mosimane after he left Sundowns in October last year. Mosimane has already won round one against his former employers, winning the first leg 2-0 at home in Cairo last Saturday.
Mosimane returns to South Africa with a slight disadvantage. Al Ahly have never beaten Sundowns at home. But what could work in Al Ahly's favour is that the match will be played behind closed doors.
Sundowns are optimistic of their chances of overturning the deficit and progressing to the next round. They received a morale booster this week, with the Footballer of the Season,
Themba Zwane, said to be in contention to start today after missing the first leg due to an injury.
With Zwane, Peter Shalulile and Gaston Sirino up front, Sundowns will have their formidable scoring unit back. They’ll know that to progress to the next round they can’t be wasteful up front – or defensively – as they were in the Land of the Pharaohs.
CASABLANCA V PIRATES
Pirates’ season has taken a drastic U-turn in the last few months. After a bright start to their campaign, which included winning the MTN8, Pirates have stuttered in the league. They are outside of the continental qualifying spots.
But that could change if they win their last four matches. That’s easier said than done though as Bucs have struggled to churn out consistent outings week in and week out. Their Confederation Cup campaign though has been steady, having lost once in 10 matches so far.
Ensuring that they get a result away to Casablanca could be Pirates’ biggest ask in the competition so far. But Josef Zinnbauer will know that progressing to the next round, and finishing in the top three, is what will buy him more time as Pirates’ commander in chief next season.
For the Sea Robbers to sail to victory in Morocco, they’ll have to bring their scoring boots. And that will require an effort from all the outfield players, especially with Gabadinho Mhango the only out-and-out striker who's available for selection, while the rest are injured.