JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Nov 9 – There was no luck for South African fallen giants Kaizer Chiefs when the CAF Champions League preliminary round draw was made in Cairo Monday as they were paired with Cameroon outfit PWD Bamenda.
It promises to be a tough two-leg tussle with the overall winners facing 2018 semi-finalists Primeiro Agosto of Angola soon after for a place in the lucrative group phase.
Bamenda are debutants with much to prove as no Cameroonian club has won the elite African club competition since a Canon Yaounde side boasting stars like Thomas N’Kono and Theophile Abega lifted the trophy 40 years ago.
Then, the best footballers from the central African country played at home. Now, those who display talent as teenagers are snapped up by European clubs, greatly weakening the domestic game.
If Bamenda have no Champions League pedigree, they are sure to be a typical Cameroonian club, full of physicality, skill, stubbornness in the face of adversity and oodles of national pride.
Soweto-based Chiefs think of themselves as one of the biggest clubs in Africa and when it comes to off-field activities such as marketing they have few equals.
But success has eluded the holders of 53 domestic competitions since winning the last of four South African Premiership titles five seasons ago under England-born coach Stuart Baxter.
They have hired local, Italian and German coaches since, but 20 attempts at winning a league or cup competitions failed.
Chiefs’ Champions League record would embarrass a club from a much lesser football power than South Africa as they have never reached the group stage in five appearances.
“Our Champions League performances have not been what one would expect from a club like Chiefs,” concedes club founder, chairman and former star Kaizer Motaung.
– Increased travel costs –
A better draw for them would have been a tie against a club from a small neighbouring southern Africa state, as going to Cameroon will not only be more challenging but greatly increase travel costs.
Chiefs fired German coach Ernst Middendorp after finishing runners-up in the league last season having led for 28 of the 30 rounds, and brought in Gavin Hunt.
Hunt is a no-nonsense handler, a former defender who looks like he would be equally at home drilling cadet soldiers on a parade square.
He won three consecutive league titles with SuperSport United and one with now disbanded Bidvest Wits, using players seemingly less talented than those he now has at Chiefs.
But his results since the season kicked off last month — two narrow wins, a goalless draw and three heavy losses — have been disappointing.
There are mitigating factors, like injured leading scorer Samir Nurkovic from Serbia, but rumours have it that he may soon be lured to the Middle East by higher salary offers.
A transfer ban until mid 2021 imposed on the club by FIFA for illegally signing Malagasy Arohasina ‘Dax’ Andrianarimanana has not helped either as Hunt clearly wants to strengthen his squad.
“It is what it is,” says the normally talkative coach with little to enthuse about these days. Bamenda may only add to his discomfort.
Preliminary round matches are scheduled for November 27-29 and December 4-6 and those in the last-32 stage on December 22-23 and January 5-6.
The 16 survivors of the two qualifying rounds go into a separate draw for the lucrative group phase while the last-32 losers get a second chance of African glory by dropping to the CAF Confederation Cup.