CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 28, Ayanda Dlamini of AmaZulu during the Absa Premiership match between Ajax Cape Town and AmaZulu from Cape Town Stadium on March 28, 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa Photo by Carl Fourie / Gallo Images

Amazulu begin their 2012/13 season in earnest this afternoon when they visit Moroka Swallows in the quarter-finals of the popular MTN8 Cup.

After finishing seventh in the PSL last season, Roger Palmgren’s charges have been handed a tough draw, with last season’s runners-up in the league race sure to provide the sternest of tests, even after losing influential coach Gordon Igesund to the national team.

“They lost a brilliant coach, but they have also gained another brilliant coach in Zeca Marques,” Palmgren said of the former assistant at Swallows.

“The bulk of their team is the same from last season, so we are going to be playing a side that was nearly league champions,” he added.

Swallows’ pre-season form hasn’t exactly been high-flying, with a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Kaizer Chiefs in the Gauteng Cup, and also a 4-0 reverse against SuperSport United.

But, as the Dube Birds proved last season, their experienced core has learnt to win matches that really matter.

Spearhead Siyabonga Nomvethe, whose goal-poaching was rewarded at the season-end awards, will look to pick up where he left off.

Palmgren acknowledged his opponents’ prowess and insisted that his team would have to be at their best.

AmaZulu grew in stature during their 1-0 loss to English giants Manchester United two weeks ago, while they also beat Aussie outfit Perth Glory 1-0 recently.

The Swedish coach will have to make do without Liberian import Dulee Johnson, who is still sorting out a work permit, while midfield star Stanley Kgatla is a doubt through injury.

Palmgren will also have to find a replacement for the influential Thamsanqa Sangweni, who has moved on to Sundowns. The season opener provides AmaZulu with an early shot at trying to mark their 80th anniversary with a domestic trophy.

But, as Palmgren knows, it will not be straightforward.

“I am happy with the preparations for the game, but this is a tough competition,” Palmgren warned. “It’s the eight best teams in the country, so there are no easy games.”

l Sundowns play Chiefs in the other match, both kick-offs at 3pm.