JOHANNESBURG – Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp is confident that his players have the right fighting spirit to see them qualify for the group stages of the Caf Confederation Cup from what he saw against Mamelodi Sundowns and Wits.
Amakhosi take on Zesco United at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium on Sunday in Ndola in the first leg of the Confederation Cup playoffs. They will then host the Zambian champions in the return leg at FNB Stadium next Saturday. The winner will book a place in the group stages of the Confederation Cup.
Should Chiefs be victorious, they will reach the group stages of the tournament for the first time. They would also give South Africa three teams in the group stages of continental competitions this season, with Orlando Pirates and Sundowns competing in the Champions League.
Chiefs’ best run in continental football came in 2001. That year they won the African Cup Winners’ Cup which was merged with the Caf Cup to form the Confederation Cup in 2004. Since then Amakhosi have been disappointing in continental competitions, bowing out meekly, refusing to honour a Confederation Cup playoff fixtures and even sending second-string teams to take part in the tournament. This led to assumptions that they don’t take continental football seriously.
“I have played with Asante Kotoko in the Champions League qualification,” Middendorp said. “I have played with Hearts of Oak from Accra, I took them to the group stage (of the Confederation Cup) and they won it later (without me in 2004). I think that the type of players we have, with the right attitude, good behaviour and willingness to do things right makes me confident that absolutely I have the right group of players to go to the group stage with.”
Chiefs have prepared well for Sunday’s match having faced the reigning PSL champions, Sundowns, and the frontrunners for the league title this season, Wits. Chiefs passed with flying colours against the Clever Boys, beating them 2-0 away on Wednesday. They showed tactical maturity against Sundowns, outplaying them before they were let down by a Virgil Vries error to lose 2-1 last weekend.
“We shouldn’t rush and panic against Zesco,” Middendorp said. “It will be a hectic game too, there’s no doubt about it. We have to keep calm and be cool. We have to do the right stuff, recover in a proper way and then start this game with two or three fresh players. (Willard) Katsande will definitely will be in. Dax (Andriamirado Andrianarimanana) can be an option. (Siphelele) Ntshangase is waiting.
These are the options that we have. We will try to manage ourselves in a proper way, hopefully we can return with a good result and then manage the second game well to be in the group stage. That’s our target.”
Chiefs’ only worry is how thin they are in the goalkeeping department with the injury of captain Itumeleng Khune. Vries and Bruce Bvuma are their only options and should one get injured, it would present a problem. There is speculation that Amakhosi are looking to rope in another keeper for cover, but at the moment Middendorp is happy with what he has.
“I was very impressed with Bruce from what I saw,” he said. “I hadn’t seen him before. I had only seen him at training ... we have another quality player.”