Kaizer Chiefs’ attempts to win their maiden Confederation of African Football Champions League final against Egyptian giants, Al Ahly, came unstuck, losing 3-0 in Morocco on Saturday night.
All three goals were scored in the second half by coach Pitso Mosimane’s charges, to secure their 10th Champions League title, rendering them the most successful team in the competition’s history. Amakhosi always knew it was never going to be an easy outing – in fact, it was a huge mountain to climb. Al Ahly aren’t called “The Club of the Century” for nothing. Going into this final, they had nine Champions League gold medals under their belts, while Chiefs had none, let alone a silver medal. Ahly were the defending champions, who have seen and done it all in continental football. We are talking about a team that came back with a bronze medal from the FIFA Club World Cup last season, after testing themselves against some of the best in the world. The amount of experience gained in those games is immeasurable.
In coach Mosimane, they have someone who’s made Champions League his top priority over the years, from his time at Mamelodi Sundowns. Now he’s got three Champions League and two Super Cup titles to show for his passion for continental football. That’s massive experience by any means and his latest achievement will go a long way in proving his doubters wrong. In fact, the racist North Africans who have always gone out of their way to show their disapproval of an African coaching Ahly will have nothing but a humble pie to eat and show respect to Mosimane. Chiefs went into this game as underdogs, no one can argue with that! You need to put things into perspective to understand why Chiefs were not embarrassed, as much as they lost the game. First of all, you’re talking about a Chiefs team that had one of their worst domestic seasons in the club’s 51 years of existence. A team that needed their very last game of the season to secure their Top Eight spot by finishing eighth on the log. This is a team that, for most part of the season, was regarded as one of the potential relegation candidates. Yes, you read right! That’s just how bad things were for the Glamour Boys!
This is a team that not much was expected from. Even when they started their Champions League journey, not many would have placed a bet on them progressing past the group stage. They always had the odds heavily stacked against them from the beginning, based on their poor domestic run. Credit to Gavin Hunt, who was the head coach at the time, for steering the ship into the semi-finals of this prestigious competition against all odds. The very same Chiefs team that was among the worst in the domestic league is today the second-best team in the continent! How can you not be proud of Chiefs’ achievement? How can you feel embarrassed by Chiefs’ showing in the final of this competition, all things considered? Who would have predicted that Chiefs would pocket over R20m in all competitions this past season, with most of the cash injection obviously coming from the Champions League? Not many, if any! Not many would have even expected Chiefs to make it past the group stage based on their dismal domestic league performances. This is the same Chiefs that, until this past season, never really showed enough interest in continental football and the only time they really showed up, they went all the way to the final. They did so in one season they’d have been forgiven for showing no interest at all, as their bread and butter – domestic league position – was under severe threat. Yet they gave it their best on both fronts, without any excuses and, for that, Chiefs really deserve credit!
The massive difference in experience between the two teams was clear to see in the final. Experience from management, technical team and players on how they handled their affairs. Decisions had to be made. A lot has been made of Chiefs’ decision to have Stuart Baxter on the bench instead of allowing Arthur Zwane and Dillon Shepard to finish the job they’d started since Hunt’s departure. Obviously, coach Baxter had been involved with the team, albeit behind the scenes, from the day he signed on the dotted line at Naturena together with head of technical and youth development, Molefi Ntseki. He became part of the technical team while he was waiting for his paperwork, therefore he worked with the two coaches in preparation for the two-legged semi-finals against Wydad Casablanca. However, their approach in the final was different to the games that preceded it, which didn’t really make sense. You don’t change the formula that took you all the way to the final, you just tweak what needs to be worked on and maintain the rest.
Chiefs really had it against them because they had not played a competitive game since the semi-finals, while Ahly last played a league game on the Sunday before meeting Chiefs. Ahly’s plan was simply to keep Chiefs going for 45 minutes so that lack of game-time could catch up with them in the second. There were no teams for Chiefs to even play friendly games with, as our league was in recess and some teams had just returned for pre-season training. With more than 95% of Chiefs’ squad having never gone past the group stage of this competition, let alone reach the final, coming up against an experienced Ahly team, it was always only a matter of time before Chiefs crumbled. Chiefs lost, but they were not embarrassed at all and things can only get better for the Naturena-based club going forward. With the FIFA ban now finally lifted and some cash injection in the purse, there’s no reason why Chiefs shouldn’t take advantage of the market. They’ve set the ball rolling already, but it isn’t enough. We expect to see more new faces to revamp the squad and challenge for honours next season. It has been too long and uncharacteristic of this institution to remain trophyless for so long!
On an even more positive note, Bafana Bafana won the COSAFA Cup and made all of us proud. Congratulations to coach Morena Ramoreboli and his charges for a splendid performance and achievement. They couldn’t have done it on a better date and venue, with it being on the late former president Nelson Mandela’s birthday and Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. It was written in the stars.