SuperSport United will return from Lubumbashi reasonably content as they achieved their minimum target of an away goal in a 2-1 defeat against TP Mazembe in the first leg of the Caf Confederation Cup final on Sunday.
But underneath that contentment, there will be some disappointment as Matsatsantsa a Pitori could have stolen a draw and even a win as they created enough chances to upset TP Mazembe.
Eric Tinkler showed his intentions with an attack-minded starting XI that included Jeremy Brockie, who came into this match after a hectic travelling schedule.
Brockie went through seven time zones in a space of a week since he left South Africa for New Zealand, before going to Peru for their unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign.
The striker then went from Lima to Brazil for his connecting flight to Johannesburg from Sao Paulo, before linking with his teammates to fly to Lubumbashi on Friday morning.
Matsatsantsa needed all the firepower at their disposal in their bid to return with an away goal, and no one has been more ruthless than Brockie in this competition – leading the goal-scoring charts with 10 goals.
He didn’t add to that tally on Sunday, but he hustled for 72 minutes before being replaced by Fagrie Lakay.
While SuperSport started with all the players who were involved in the World Cup qualifiers for their countries, the Ravens dropped Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouho, who had a bad game for the Elephants against Morocco, which resulted in Ivory Coast missing out on a trip to Russia.
Levy Matampi, the Ravens’ second-choice and Democratic Republic of Congo’s No 1, had his work cut out for him in place of Gbohouho.
He was put under pressure from the onset, forced to make a number of good saves to keep the hosts in the match.
Despite their pedigree in continental competitions, with 10 titles to their name – including last year’s Caf Confederation Cup – Mazembe started as second best against a team who were appearing in their first final in continental football.
That early dominance lulled SuperSport into a false sense of belief.
Adama Traore stunned the Tshwane side with a goal that came out of nowhere. Ronwen Williams’ poor positioning and weak hands could only parry the ball into his own net before he complained about being unsighted.
Matampi also didn’t see much of Sipho Mbule’s thunderbolt that silenced the stadium and brought SuperSport back into the match.
The 19-year-old lad from Welkom started in place of the suspended Reneilwe Letsholonyane.
Mbule was calm under pressure in only his second outing in this competition. He ensured that the continent will remember his first start with his brilliant goal that made him the first opposing player to score against Mazembe in the knockout stage.
The only other goal the Ravens conceded since the quarter-finals was from their own player Kevin Mondeko against Sudanese side Al-Hilal Al-Ubayyid.
The DRC giants responded through the boot of Daniel Nii Adjei who helped Mazembe retain their lead.
The 18 000-strong crowd found their voices again. In both goals, SuperSport were at fault for giving their opponents too much space, while Williams didn’t cover himself in glory with how he tried to stop them.
But all is not lost.
A 1-0 win at Lucas Moripe Stadium in the second leg of the final on Saturday night will see SuperSport crowned Confederation Cup champions for the first time in the club’s history.