New Chiefs coach Baxter played a role in the planning for Wydad showdown, reveals caretaker Zwane

18 June 2021 - 17:53 By Marc Strydom
Caretaker coaches Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard will be on the bench in the first leg match of the Caf Champions League semifinal against Wydad Athletic in Casablanca.
Caretaker coaches Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard will be on the bench in the first leg match of the Caf Champions League semifinal against Wydad Athletic in Casablanca.
Image: Kaizer Chiefs

Kaizer Chiefs are the rank outsiders to beat Wydad Casablanca in their Caf Champions League semifinal over the next two weekends.

That might also be the situation that just gives the only non-North African side left in the semifinals a chink in the armour of a seemingly impenetrable mission that starts at Stade V Mohamed in Casablanca on Saturday night (kickoff 8pm in Morocco, 9pm SA time).

If Chiefs had gone into the semi in the lackadaisical, heavy frame of mind that weighed them down throughout a miserable 2020-21 domestically under Gavin Hunt, fired with two matches left in the DStv Premiership, it would be hard to see them suffering anything but a considerable defeat to 2017 Champions League winners Wydad.

But their two wins from their last two league games under caretakers Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard, scrambling a morale-boosting and unlikely top eight finish, and unpredictability of a side under new technical staff, just might be levellers against the crack Moroccan outfit.

Even with that, Chiefs remain firm underdogs.

But veteran converted midfielder Bernard Parker adds a third factor — the arrival of Stuart Baxter back at the club as head coach — that just adds another glimmer of light in the crack of a very heavy door standing between Amakhosi and the glory of a Champions League final.

Baxter, awaiting his work permit, will watch from the stands on Saturday evening in Chiefs’ first-ever Champions League semifinal, but Parker said the former Bafana Bafana coach’s return to Naturena has been another part of a potential fresh breath blowing through the embattled club.

“Coach Arthur tweaked our mindset in terms of having to believe ourselves. We did that, and the results spoke for themselves,” Parker said in Chiefs’ pre-match press conference in Casablanca.

“And it’s continued onto that when coach Stuart Baxter came in a few weeks later. Everyone also now wants to impress the boss — everywhere in the world, whether in a football environment or working environment.

“Everyone is good and healthy, everyone is injury-free and everyone is in a good mindset in terms of being picked to play on the day.”

Zwane emphasised that Baxter has not made any dramatic tactical changes in how Chiefs will approach the semi.

“The preparations are still the same, nothing much has changed simply because we don’t have too much time on our hands. And yes, coach Stuart has had his input like any other technical member of the team,” the caretaker-coach said.

Wydad — known not just for their quality, but also notorious levels of gamesmanship — beat Chiefs 4-0 in neutral Burkina Faso in the group stages. The Group C winners then lost 1-0 to second-placed finishers Amakhosi, who were reduced to nine men, in the return match at FNB Stadium, where the Moroccan club fielded an understrength combination.

If Wydad let their guard down and allow any complacency to creep in, Chiefs might just have a sniff at en epic upset.

“I think the past counts for nothing simply because it’s going to be a different ball game altogether,” Zwane said.

“We know very well that we are playing against one of the best teams on the continent. We know what to expect, and we will always do what we do best to make sure we get the desired result.”

The second leg at FNB is on Saturday, July 26.

Pitso Mosimane’s Al Ahly meet ES Tunis in Tunisia in this Saturday’s earlier semifinal first leg (6pm), with the return leg in Cairo also on June 26.