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South Africa’s Continental Hangover…

CAF competitions have – for many years – been much maligned in South Africa, and if you look at the way league performances dwindle in the aftermath of African ‘success’, it’s not hard to see why.
 
I put success in inverted commas because SA’s CAF success is nothing to write home about. Success is relative, so given the country’s failure to dominate on the continent, I’m classing ‘success’ as managing to reach the group stages of the CAF Champions League or Confederation Cup.
 
Mamelodi Sundowns face the difficult task of trying to battle on five fronts in 2016/17 as they look to challenge for all four domestic competitions – including the Absa Premiership – as well as push on in both the 2016 and 2017 CCL.
 
 
Despite being knocked out of the CCL and CCC this year, Pitso Mosimane’s men grasped their second chance at continental glory with both hands after AS Vita were disqualified, and now find themselves into the semi-finals with a group game left to spare.
 
With just one CCL win (Orlando Pirates – 1995) and one African Cup Winners' Cup win (Kaizer Chiefs – 2001) over the years, Mzansi’s record in CAF competitions is not an enviable one, but what is more alarming is the club’s inability to deal with any sort of relative success in either tournament.
 
 
Since the turn of the century not one South African club has managed to reach the group stages of either African inter-club competition and win the league the following year.
 
 
Pirates, Sundowns, Chiefs, Santos, SuperSport United and Ajax Cape Town have all managed to reach the groups of either the CCL or CCC in the last 16 years, yet not one of them has managed to finish higher than third in the league campaign that followed.
 
In 1999/00, like this season, Downs managed to win the league while competing in the opening stages of the CCL, but as they reached the groups in 2000 and the final in 2001, the Brazilians’ league form dipped as they fell to third in 2000/01, fifth in 2001/02 and then 10th in 2002/03.
 
By building a remarkable technical team at Chloorkop – often known as their ‘Brains Trust’ – Mosimane has given his side the best chance of continued success, although he will now have to succeed where no other South African coach this millennia has previously succeeded.
 
The travel and extra games, as well as the pressure on coaches in South Africa to challenge for all four domestic trophies, creates an environment that is not conducive to continued success, and in order to achieve it, Downs have a jigsaw that they must try and piece together.
 
Since reaching the CCL showpiece in 2013, Pirates’ league position has dropped almost annually, going from winners in 2012 to third, fourth and, most recently, seventh as they reached the CCC final last year.
 
 
After the Buccaneers won Africa’s biggest club competition back in 1995 (they’re still the only club in the country to do so), it took them another six years before they lifted the league title again in 2000/01, and all 10 SA clubs that have reached the groups in either competition since 2000 have seen their league form hit a huge slump. The most noticeable, of course, was Santos in 2004 when their CCC attempts resulted in them finishing 12th the following season.
 
As previously mentioned, Mosimane’s ‘Brains Trust’ and medical team – coupled with the squad’s impressive depth – means that periodisation, recovery, loading etc. shouldn’t be a problem, although this season, more than ever, Downs’ technical team will really be earning their money.
 
We all want to see South African teams performing well on the continent, but we have seen too many clubs drop out in the early stages in recent years. If Sundowns can buck the trend of succeeding to the detriment of the season that follows, they’ll have the Holy Grail.
 
Pitso has – arguably – the best squad in the country at present with depth that most other clubs can only dream of, something that places them in the best possible position to avoid this recurring CAF hangover. However, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. If they can avoid that hangover, then my money’s on them for the title once again.

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