Willard Katsande is banking on Kaizer Chiefs internationals to guide them to the Champions League final
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HISTORY awaits Kaizer Chiefs if they beat Wydad Casablanca over the two-legged CAF Champions League semi-finals. That’s why vice-captain Willard Katsande is banking on the internationals in the team to help them reach the promised land – the final.
Despite being the most decorated club in domestic football – having won 93 trophies – Chiefs have enjoyed little success in continental football. They won only the Nelson Mandela Cup (also known as the Africa Cup Winners’ Cup), in 2001. This time Chiefs broke their record in the Champions League. They reached the group stage, knockout stage and semi-finals for the first time. And they are targeting the milestone of playing in the final as well.
But they’ll have to get past a successful Wydad side in order to achieve that feat. Wydad are two-time African champions and they’ve never finished below the quarter-finals in their last five appearances in the competition. The two teams have already met in the group stages. Wydad hammered Chiefs 4-0 at home, before the latter defeated them 1-0 in Johannesburg. Chiefs have had an underwhelming outing in the league after finishing eighth, while Wydad are at the summit of the Botola league.
Wydad will host Chiefs in the first leg of the semis tonight (9pm kick-off), while the return leg will be played in Johannesburg next Saturday.
Despite being the underdogs,Chiefs midfielder Katsande says the experience of their international players will be key.
“Reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League is a huge milestone. But we are not only talking semi-finals but qualifying for the group stage and the quarter-finals was history on its own. That was a plus to the biggest brand,” Katsande said from Casablanca.
“This has put the brand up there in Africa. We showed that we can compete. Here we are now, in the semi-finals. It’s a huge game for us, and we’ve got so many internationals in the team who can help us execute our game plan and try to go all the way to the final.”
One of the internationals whose experience will be valuable at this stage of the competition is Akumu Agay. The Kenyan played in the semi-finals of the pan-African competition during his stint with Zesco United where they lost to Mamelodi Sundowns.
“This time it’s a big milestone because I am with Chiefs now. Our preparations have been good. I trust and believe that it’s an opportunity to go to the final. It will be a tough assignment but we have good players who are ready to step up – in every department,” Agay said. Chiefs will be without coach Stuart Baxter who is waiting for his work permit. Assistants Dillon Sheppard and Arthur Zwane will serve as interim coaches.
They’ll be hoping to build on their back-to-back wins in the last two games of the league. Continental football offers emerging players a platform where they can test themselves against the best.
That’s the case for Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, 21, who has been one of the key figures in helping Chiefs reach this stage of the competition.
“To reach the finals with Chiefs, it’s a great experience. A great opportunity. I think we can only be proud of ourselves as a team – we’ve done very well. We just have to ensure that we go to the final and win it. Although it won’t be easy, we can do it,” Ngcobo said.