Kaizer Chiefs form bedevils Champions League
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CAPE TOWN - This season, indomitable Kaizer Chiefs have made the Champions League formbook look like a comic strip as they worked their way to the final after emerging winners despite being decided underdogs each time.
Chiefs need to continue this remarkable run and ride their luck. If not, everything points to a lopsided final given Al Ahly’s imposing credentials – nine-time champions and an unprecedented 14 final appearances.
In Saturday’s semi-final second leg, Wydad AC had a massive possession advantage but failed to capitalise.
Chiefs defence chased down the ball in all the channels and hoofed away anything that came close to their penalty box. Their style on defence did not ooze sophistication but on the day, it was impenetrable.
Lady Luck came down hard on Chiefs before the kick-off as three players were laid low by injury.
One of those was goalkeeper Bruce Bvuma, Man of the Match in the semi-final first leg in Casablanca.
There was also the matter of several members of Chiefs’ technical staff sent into isolation because they had been in contact with individuals infected with Covid-19.
Bvuma’s replacement, Nigerian Daniel Akpeyi, also produced a Man of the Match performance. Together with the efforts of his defence, they forced the frustrated two-time Champions League winners to settle for a 0-0 draw.
After the match, Wydad coach Faouzi Benzarti said Chiefs’ defence was “unbelievable” and he was baffled how Amakhosi managed to come away with an aggregate win. He made the point that in both semi-final legs his team dominated, but could not score a single goal.
One thing that did work for Chiefs, after they were outplayed in both legs, was the officiating.
In Chiefs’ game away at Wydad, Senegalese referee Maguette Ndiaye disallowed Samir Nurkovic’s first-half goals after the assistant referee raised his flag. The video assistant referee was used to check out the play, and the goal was allowed.
On Saturday, Democratic Republic of the Congo referee Jean Jacques Ndala kept the Moroccans in check, even though they were constantly in his ear from start to finish. He booked Wydad twice for dissension.
On the other hand, he allowed Chiefs to weigh in with a fair degree of physicality and aggression without bringing them to book.
Chiefs will again be rank underdogs, and they can expect much the same from Al Ahly in the final.
North African teams have a history of bullying referees and usually enjoy the run of the green. They are also masters of time-wasting tactics by ensuring the balls are not returned to play when they want to run down the clock.
Chiefs will do well to recall what Pitso Mosimane said two years ago when he was coach of Mamelodi Sundowns. After a Champions
League match, the now Al Ahly coach mused: “The north Africans are always bullying everybody. They bully referees, and they bully ball boys. They do not want to lose. It was the first time that I saw a referee and his assistants look for a ball to continue a match.”