One of the last places in Africa any coach wants to take a struggling side is the Stade des Martyrs in Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa. When packed to its 80,000 capacity, the venue ranks among the most intimidating football cauldrons imaginable.
That is where CAF Champions League title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa face local outfit AS V Club Wednesday in a key Group C matchday 2 showdown. With Sundowns held 0-0 at home by Saint George of Ethiopia and AS V Club losing 3-1 at Esperance of Tunisia this month, both crave speedy recoveries.
Add the disqualification of V Club from the competition last season and reinstatement of Sundowns and the pre-match temperature reaches boiling point. V Club edged Sundowns on away goals in a qualifier, but were denied a group slot because they fielded suspended Malian Idrissa Traore.
Sundowns made the most of a second chance by winning the competition for the first time with a 3-1 overall triumph against Zamalek of Egypt in the final.
“It is an extremely difficult fixture,” conceded Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, “with both teams desperate for points.
“Above all, we do not want to lose in Kinshasa. V Club are bottom of the group and our mission is to keep them there, hopefully with a win.
“After Kinshasa, we host Esperance and winning that match could get us back on track in defence of the title.”
Mosimane, who often wakes in the middle of the night to study videos of opponents, knows the odds are stacked against Sundowns holding on to the trophy.
In the 53 years of the premier African club football competition, only Al Ahly of Egypt, TP Mazembe of DR Congo and Enyimba of Nigeria have won back-to-back titles.
“A tough challenge, but not an impossible one,” said 52-year-old Mosimane.
He hopes the lure of a record $2.5 million (2.2 million euros) first prize will lift a squad feeling the effects of endless CAF and domestic fixtures.
Sundowns surrendered the South African Premiership title to Wits last week after a spate of home draws against modest opposition.
Record eight-time champions Ahly are another top seed who began poorly, drawing 0-0 in Group D at home to group-phase debutants Zanaco of Zambia.
The famed “Cairo Red Devils” have scored just once in three CAF matches this season, and that came from the head of defender Ahmed Hegazy after a corner. Ahly tackle Coton Sport in Garoua, the centre of the cotton industry in northern Cameroon and a venue where the visitors have done well. They won the 2008 Champions League there after drawing the second leg and a semi-final victory in Garoua helped bring the CAF Confederation Cup to Cairo three years ago.
Etoile Sahel of Tunisia in Group A and Zamalek in Group C began the mini-league phase with home successes. Zamalek could double their points haul to six as opponents Al Ahly.
Tripoli of Libya must stage a home fixture in Tunisia owing to security concerns.
After slamming five goals past Ferroviario Beira of Mozambique, Etoile face the first serious examination of their ability away to Al Merrikh of Sudan.
Source: Confederation Africaine de Football