SuperSport United coach Eric Tinkler and midfielder Thuso Phala speak at a press conference. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
SuperSport United coach Eric Tinkler and midfielder Thuso Phala speak at a press conference. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Phala gestures during a SuperSport United match. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Phala gestures during a SuperSport United match. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - A confident Thuso Phala boldly predicts that SuperSport United will exploit TP Mazembe’s greatest strength by turning it into a weakness to win their maiden Caf Confederation Cup.

Matsatsantsa a Pitori take on the African powerhouse - winners of 10 continental titles - in the first leg of the final at Stade TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi on Sunday at 3.30pm. The 18 000 tickets available for the match go on sale on Friday and are in high demand as the Ravens' supporters hope to witness Mazembe move a step closer to retaining the trophy they won last year.

The last time SuperSport visited Mazembe, the fans who filled Stade TP Mazembe weren’t too pleased with their team. They booed the Ravens off the field, angry that they were held to a 2-2 draw by Matsatsantsa in the group stage. But they also had the sportsmanship to applaud SuperSport for their gallant fight before letting their players have it.

“We are going to go to Mazembe and turn the crowd against them,” Phala said. “When you have a big support base and those fans are used to winning, they turn against you quickly when things aren’t going well. We have seen that happen even here at home. We have to go there, play good football and turn their fans against them, which would be to our advantage.”

SuperSport flew to the DRC on Friday morning with Morgan Gould, who landed with the Bafana Bafana contingent on Thursday. Gould is there to give his team support while he and Reneilwe Letsholonyane serve their suspensions. SuperSport booked their place in the final the hard way after drawing the home leg in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, which saw them play for their lives in front of hostile crowds against ZESCO United and Club Africain, who were unbeaten in this tournament in their own backyards.

“I think we had a tougher route to the final than Mazembe,” Phala said. “They will be wary of us even though they will be playing at home. We must use that to our advantage. We want an away goal. We aren’t going to sit back and say: 'Ah, we are playing against the mighty Mazembe, so we need to be cautious’. We will attack them and look for that goal.”

Eric Tinkler will assess the tournament’s top goalscorer, Jeremy Brockie, before deciding on whether to start him. The New Zealand forward landed this morning from Peru, via Brazil, and immediately flew to the DRC with his teammates. But jetlag will be the least of Brockie’s worries as his team has a shot at making history.

“I think sometimes we tend to make a meal of ‘hostile environments’,” Phala said. “You can go somewhere and your flight is delayed, something that the team you’re facing has nothing to do with. But because you have the mind-set that everyone is out to get you, you start panicking thinking that this is part of their plans to unsettle you. 

"When we went to Liberia, we couldn’t land and had to fly around for two hours. We were able to endure that because we are mentally stronger. We went to Tunisia and had an experience of a lifetime with the crowd that we played in front of, which we don’t get here. They didn’t intimidate us but made us stronger. The lasers and everything else was there but we still won 3-1. It’s all in the mind.”

The Star

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