JOHANNESBURG - The prospect of breaking new ground in the continent again excites SuperSport United’s interim coach Kaitano Tembo.
The Zimbabwean coach was part of the Warriors team that qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004 for the first time in the country’s history. He also led Matsatsantsa a Pitori to their first participation in the knockout stage of the Caf Confederation Cup last year.
This year Tembo is looking to take Matsatsantsa to the group stage of the tournament for a second successive year for the first time in the club’s history. SuperSport take on Gor Mahia in Kenya on Sunday in the first leg of the Confederation Cup play-offs with the return leg at Lucas Moripe Stadium nine days later. The winner will book a place in the group stage.
“Playing in Africa is always good,” Tembo said. “It helps the team to grow as a brand and the players to grow as individuals because you come across different cultures when you travel. The travelling is not always the same. It builds character.
"Players like Sipho Mbule and Teboho Mokoena played in this tournament regularly and they have grown. We used this tournament to fast-track their growth and help others return to full fitness.
"Masha (Tefu Mashamaite) played many games in this tournament. It helped us build the character of young players. We went to Angola this year, played in 37°C, and they stuck it out to get the result.”
Matsatsantsa have to balance their continental ambitions with clawing their way up the standings in the Absa Premiership. SuperSport sit in 14th place, just three points ahead of 15th placed Ajax Cape Town.
A win over Polokwane City on Wednesday at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium will give Matsatsantsa some breathing space before their trip to Nairobi as Rise and Shine are tied with SuperSport on 27 points.
That tricky position in the league will see them field a team that has a good blend of youth and experience with their main objective being to finish in a respectable position. Those young players will find the transition easier with a familiar figure in Tembo.
“I was the bridging gap between the young players and the first team,” Tembo said. “I’ve always known about their development. When they come here it’s about learning. Each and every training session for young players is always a learning curve. They must leave the training grounds having learned something.
"It’s a little bit easier for me because I have worked at development and coached some of them. I am now working with them in the first team. It’s a little bit easier for me to blend the youth with the senior players. In Angola we played a number of youngsters.”
Gor Mahia will offer SuperSport a stern challenge. But the experience the Tshwane side gained in the continent last year gives them an edge. Under Tembo, SuperSport went to Lubumbashi to take on the mighty TP Mazembe and left with not only a point but also the affection of the hard-to-please crowd who gave Matsatsantsa a standing ovation.
“It was a little bit emotional,” Tembo said. “We know Mazembe is a fortress when you go there. Not many teams go there and come out alive. It’s a very intimidating place. But we went there, played good football, kept them on the back-foot and had young players like Teboho and Aubrey (Modiba) who went there and scored. It gave us satisfaction as a team.”