JOHANNESBURG - Every player in the Kaizer Chiefs set-up understands the magnitude of playing in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
After all, Amakhosi have never been to this stage of the continent’s premier club competition and the current crop of players will be proud of that legacy, especially if they qualify for the final.
This is the feeling that defender Daniel Cardoso shared as the Glamour Boys prepared to face Wydad Casablanca in the first leg of the semi-finals tomorrow night.
Cardoso is optimistic and believes the team is high on confidence at the moment.
After a disappointing domestic campaign, Chiefs pulled off back-to-back wins in the final two games of the season. Those victories were enough to guarantee them a top eight spot ahead of the new season.
But in the bigger scheme of things they also served as a huge morale boost heading into their semi-final tie. They’ll be away in Casablanca tomorrow night, before playing the return leg at home a week later.
This is the first time in their 51 years of existence that Chiefs have reached this stage of the competition. And despite being underdogs against the two-time African champions, Cardoso is confident about their chances of winning.
“The environment is actually very good, currently. As you know, we won our last two games towards the end of the season. That carried a huge morale booster. Getting those last two results to reach the top-eight cleared our mind,” he said.
“Now we don’t have to focus on anything but this competition. We are going up against Wydad, which is clearly a great team. They beat us away, and we beat them at home. We are going to this encounter with a fresh and good mind.”
In their first meeting during the group stage at a neutral venue in Burkina Faso, Wydad trounced Chiefs 4-0. Chiefs, then led by coach Gavin Hunt, defeated a makeshift Wydad team 1-0 in the return leg at home. But since then, a lot has changed.
Chiefs have sacked Hunt, who was replaced by Stuart Baxter. But Baxter won’t be on the bench tomorrow as he’s waiting for his work permit. Assistants Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard are set to continue in their roles as interim coaches.
Wydad, who were losing finalists to current champions Al Ahly last season, are currently enjoying a purple patch of form. They are undefeated in their last 12 matches in all competitions.
But Cardoso says they know they have to be at their best.
“We are preparing for the team that we played away because we know that they didn’t come with their strongest team out in South Africa due to Covid. It’s a bit of a challenge, but we’ve been watching them, especially from the away game,” he said.
The Glamour Boys conceded 37 goals last term, their worst defensive record in the league, while Wydad have shown that they are ruthless up front after hammering them by four goals, and they scored five in their last match.
“We haven’t had the best season in terms of our defensive structure. We’ve conceded quite a few goals. But the last few sessions which we’ve put in, we were working on the defensive structure and everything. And we looked better,” Cardoso said.