Supersport United returned from Lubumbashi in June with more than just a point after their 2-2 draw with TP Mazembe in the group stage of the Caf Confederation Cup.
“That game was the turning point for us,” United assistant coach Kaitano Tembo, said. “We started believing that we can go all the way to the final. Not many teams come to Lubumbashi and leave intact, let alone get applauded by their fans for a good performance. Mazembe are a powerhouse.
“They’ve won the Caf Champions League five times and our best performance in the Champions League is only reaching the group stage (in 2004). To go toe-to-toe with such a giant and get something from them boosted our confidence.
“Even their coach (Pamphile Mihayo Kazembe) said that we are a good team and we can reach the final. We’ve done that.”
Tembo played a significant role in SuperSport reaching the final of the Confederation Cup. After Stuart Baxter was appointed as Bafana Bafana coach, Tembo led the club in the group stage before Eric Tinkler took over from the quarter-finals.
Under Tembo, United were a free-scoring side. They finished second with the most goals in a group that consisted of the reigning Confederation Cup champions Mazembe, Horoya of Guinea and CF Mounana of Gabon.
“Being given that role helped me grow as a coach,” Tembo said. “This competition is different to playing in the domestic league. You don’t just have to plan for the match, but you also have to factor in a lot of other things like the travelling, the reception and the conditions you will face in a foreign country.
“Football ends up being secondary to what you need to get right to succeed. It tested me as a coach, but the support I had from the players and the management helped me get past it. This competition has made us mentally stronger as a team.”
That mental strength will be tested today in SuperSport’s first return to Stade TP Mazembe since their impressive comeback from 2-0 to draw 2-2.
But despite that result at the back of their minds and an impressive record on the road, the Ravens come into this first leg of the final as favourites due to their pedigree in these competitions with 10 continental titles while SuperSport are appearing in only their first final.
Matsatsantsa arrived in Lubumbashi on Friday after a four-hour flight delay due to not having the right paperwork to land in the DRC. Due to that delay, they arrived too late to have their first training session as a group since the international break took six key players.
Yesterday they trained on the match venue for the first time together. Their brains trust, led by Tinkler and Tembo, will now look to outsmart the holders of the Confederation Cup.
The two complement each other well. Tinkler has been here before with Orlando Pirates in 2015, while Tembo is unbeaten against Mazembe.
Despite Tembo’s impressive display with SuperSport that earned him praise from Pitso Mosimane and SuperSport’s CEO award, named after the late former United assistant coach Thomas Madigage - the 47-year-old Zimbabwean is happy to wait for the time he’ll be appointed head coach.
“I have worked with a lot of coaches here from Pitso as player to being the assistant of Gavin Hunt, Cavin Johnson, Gordon Igesund, Stuart Baxter and Eric,” Tembo said.
“I have learned a lot from all of them. For me it’s always about empowering myself. I started from the bottom, coaching the Under-17s, Under-19s, reserve team, to being the assistant and holding the job in the interim a couple of times.
“My time will come. I am a patient man. My job at the moment is to assist the coach while I grow.”