Some serious action ahead for Chiefs and Sundowns

08 March 2015 - 02:40 By MARC STRYDOM

South Africa's two representatives have to up their games in the Champions League. The stroll is over for Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs in the Caf Champions League as this coming Saturday they come up against teams with pedigree in African competition.Sundowns host the mining-rich Democratic Republic of Congolese equivalent of themselves, Tout Puissant Mazembe, in the first leg of their first- round tie at Loftus in Pretoria.Chiefs meet an African club giant, though one in wavering domestic form in Morocco, Raja Casablanca, at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.The PSL champions and runners-up meet opponents who are dealing with some of the issues that can dog their regional football leagues.Katanga province governor and mining magnate Moise Katumbi's Lubumbashi billionaires Mazembe have had disruptions to the DRC league.As much as Katumbi has assembled an array of stars - Ivory Coast goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo, who impressed at the Africa Cup of Nations in January, is the latest - he cannot control the domestic environment TP compete in. A format that sees two league rounds before a knockout stage this season went straight to the play-offs because the league ran out of money."It will have affected Mazembe because they have had less matches to play," said Lubumbashi-based sports TV producer Patrick Kitembe."But their form is always strong. There's a very large gap between Mazembe and the other teams here, on the field and organisationally."Gbohou will compete for a place with recently retired DRC goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba, famous for his trademark "bum dance" celebration. Of the DRC side that thrilled with attacking football as Afcon semifinalists, Mazembe possess the centre-back pairing of Joel Kimwaki and Jean Kasusula. The first team to defend the Champions League title in 2010, and Club World Cup (CWC) finalists the same year, have a strong Zambian contingent, especially playmaker Rainford Kalaba and forward Given Singuluma. Mazembe are coached by the former Mali boss, Frenchman Patrice Carteron.Kitembe said Lubumbashi has been poised for a match its residents see as a chance for Mazembe to gain revenge for being eliminated in the second round in 2013 by finalists Orlando Pirates.Raja, the 2013 CWC runners-up, have been in indifferent form in Morocco's Botola. In contrast to PSL leaders Chiefs, who have lost one match from 21, Raja are in seventh place after six defeats and six draws."Raja is not the same team as when they reached the CWC final," said Moroccan freelance football journalist and part-time BBC analyst Hassan Moulay."Even if we call Moroccan football professional the mentality is amateur. Teams can have a good season, and the next struggle to not go down."Managers rarely stay past one or two seasons. You can have a very good team one year, then with a new manager results are completely different."Moroccan clubs have been inconsistent. Raja are onto a third coach - Portuguese Jose Romao - since the departure of Tunisian Faouzi Benzarti, who led them at the CWC. Midfielder Mouhssine Iajour, the bronze ball winner in that tournament, has been allowed to move on.Raja, though, have continental pedigree - they are the fifth-most successful club in the Champions League with three victories and a runners-up place.And they started this year's competition with a 6-2 aggregate victory against Congo's Diables Noirs."The club brought new players, but 60 or 70 percent of the team that reached the CWC final remains," Moulay said.Sundowns and Chiefs will need to lift their performances from unspectacular preliminary round victories to reach the penultimate round before the group stages.

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