SUNDAY TIMES - Wits try again to impress in Africa
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Sunday Times Soccer By David LEGGE , 2016-03-10

Wits try again to impress in Africa

Bidvest Wits head coach Gavin Hunt.
Image: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

Wits hope to put three disastrous CAF Confederation Cup campaigns behind them Saturday when they host Azam of Tanzania in a round-of-32 first leg.

The unfashionable Johannesburg outfit were unexpectedly eliminated by teams from weak football nations Madagascar (twice) and Swaziland in previous appearances.

Most humiliating was the preliminary-round exit to Swazi police side Royal Leopard last season as the South Africans surrendered a 3-0 first-leg lead before losing on penalties.

That shock triggered accusations that coach Gavin Hunt did not pick his best players and was not taking Africa seriously.

Hunt, a three-time Premiership-winning coach with SuperSport United before joining Wits, insists he respects Dar es Salaam-based Azam and will choose his strongest side.

"I have no choice," he stressed, "because Azam are a good team with quality footballers like John Bocco and Allan Wanga.

"Bocco is known to me because he had trials at SuperSport while I was there," said the 51-year-old former Premiership full-back.

Wits warmed up with a 1-0 league win at Polokwane City that trimmed the gap between them and leaders Mamelodi Sundowns to seven points with eight rounds remaining.

James Keene Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Azam flew to Johannesburg after a 2-2 league draw against defending champions Young Africans with a second-half Bocco goal salvaging a point.

Wits hope England-born James Keene can increase his goal haul after scoring seven in league and cup games since a mid-season move from Sweden.

A multi-national Azam squad includes Ivorians Serge Pascal Wawa and Kipre Tcheche, Burundian Didier Kavumbagu and Kenyan Wanga.

"We spied on Wits in the previous round, gathered valuable information, and are favourites to win the tie," said an Azam spokesman.

Wits outclassed Light Stars of Seychelles 6-0 and 3-0 in a preliminary tie while Azam received a bye in the second-tier CAF club competition.

Whoever qualifies will almost certainly face Esperance of Tunisia, five-time CAF title winners and the strongest looking team among the 32 contenders.

The 'Blood and Gold', who have won every CAF competition bar the Confederation Cup, visit surprise qualifiers Renaissance of Chad.

A Karim Mahamat brace earned the N'Djamena club a draw at New Stars Douala of Cameroon last month and a 3-2 overall triumph.

Three other last-32 teams -- Kawkab Marrakech and FUS Rabat of Morocco and Africa Sports of Ivory Coast -- share with Esperance the distinction of being former CAF title winners.

Kawkab host Barrack Young Controllers II of Liberia, FUS visit UMS Loum of Cameroon and Africa Sports have home advantage over ENPPI of Egypt.

After a three-loss start to the Nigerian league season, Nasarawa United must hope that a change of competition will bring a change of fortune when they host CS Constantine of Algeria.

- AFP