JOHANNESBURG - What started out as an exercise to test the depth of SuperSport United’s squad could turn into a history-making expedition for the Tshwane side that’s three rounds away from being CAF Confederation Cup champions.
Matsatsantsa a Pitori take on Zesco United on Friday night at Lucas Moripe Stadium as both sides make their first appearance in the quarter-finals of the Confederation Cup. This is already a big achievement for SuperSport who started this campaign by fielding fringe players in the qualifying rounds before assistant coach Kaitano Tembo led his charges in the group stage while the club phased itself from the Stuart Baxter era and into Eric Tinkler’s tenure.
Tinkler almost made history with Orlando Pirates two years ago by leading the Buccaneers to glory in this tournament for the first time in the club’s history but lost to Tunisian giants Etoile du Sahel in the final. Tinkler is driven to make up for that disappointment by going one step further and give Matsatsantsa their first continental crown.
“You have to play clever football to succeed in these competitions, especially at this stage,” Tinkler said. “What becomes extremely important when you are playing at home isn’t necessarily the win but what is important is not conceding.
"It’s very, very important to keep a clean sheet at home. If you look back in my times when we were in the Champions League and Confederation Cup (with Pirates) that’s where we let ourselves down, conceding those goals at home.
“You will find it a lot more difficult to break the opposition’s defence in their own backyard. You have to play with a lot of intelligence at this stage of the tournament. I think that the earlier rounds, with all due respect, are a lot easier.
"This is the business end of the competition where you need to be tactically astute and disciplined. You have to be clever in terms of which moments you look to hurt the opposition.”
SuperSport and Zesco are both in a transitional period with new coaches at the helm. The Zambian side is led by Serbian Zlatko Krmpotic who replaced George Lwandamina in February. Lwandamina guided Zesco to the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League last year, a first for the club. They were eliminated by eventual winners and SuperSport’s rivals Mamelodi Sundowns.
The Zambian side will be looking to not lose to another club from Tshwane in the knockout stage after they were let down by not killing off the contest at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium. Zesco topped a tough grouped that featured Egypt’s Smouha, Recreativo do Libolo of Angola and Sudan’s Al-Hilal El Obeid.
“I know everyone from the players to the coach at SuperSport,” Krmpotic said. “I watched them here live when they played Kaizer Chiefs (in the league). SuperSport play good football. They started with a 4-3-3 formation and then changed to 4-4-2 after introducing (Jeremy) Brockie. In the last 20 minutes they changed back to 4-3-3.
"They are a good team with good players. But we also have good players. What is important for us is to be disciplined on the field. We want to go all the way in this competition. We played well in the group stage. Some games, like we did in Angola, we didn’t play well and lost. But even when we lose we create good chances which bode well for us.”