Kaizer Chiefs are just 180 minutes away from a place in the group stage of the Caf Confederation Cup, and victory in the away leg of their play-off match on Sunday against Zesco United, will go a long way in boosting their hopes of progression.
Chiefs have often been criticised for not taking African football seriously enough, but it appears that the progress of Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United in recent years has motivated them to give it another go.
Nonetheless, after overcoming Zimamoto and Elgeco Plus, Zesco United offer Chiefs their biggest test to date.
The Zambian champions fell at the final hurdle in qualifying for Caf Champions League after losing to DR Congo giants TP Mazembe, subsequently falling down into the continent’s second-tier competition.
This will be the very first meeting between the two sides in a competitive match and Chiefs will hope that they can use their recent domestic win over Bidvest Wits to motivate their challenge for the Confederation Cup title.
|Game||Zesco United v Kaizer Chiefs|
|Date||Sunday, January 13|
|Time||15:00 SA Time|
TV Channel, Live Score & How To Watch
|Live Match Centre||TV Channel|
Squad & Team News
Following Chiefs’ impressive midweek victory, coach Ernst Middendorp would have hoped for continuity.
However, that is not necessarily the case as players such as Lorenzo Gordinho and Kgotso Moleko have been left at home due to the fact that they have not been registered for the competition.
This together with injuries to key players such as Willard Katsande, Erick Mathoho and Ramahlwe Mphahlele among others throw up a bit of a selection headache for the German mentor.
Meanwhile, with Itumeleng Khune out for the season, Virgil Vries will be expected to take his place between the sticks, and it could be a busy day for him with Lazarous Kambole and Jesse Were in attack for the home side.
The duo netted five goals between them in their unsuccessful route to the Champions League group stages and are surely the players to watch.
Chiefs though have immense firepower of their own and Middendorp will hope that the attacking trio of Khama Billiat, who leads the club’s league scoring charts, Leonardo Castro and Lebogang Manyama can click into gear.
Castro’s aerial ability could come in hand at the Lewy Mwanawasa Stadium. But the fact that Zesco plays a similar brand of football to South African sides could entice Chiefs and could just work in their favour.
One player who potentially secured a place in Chiefs' starting XI is Hendrick Ekstein.
The playmaker found the back of the net against Wits and with all the injuries to key players, he may just have an opportunity to showcase his talent on the big stage.
Going into the clash, Chiefs have lost just one of their last five games, which makes the form team.
But a statistic that will certainly be of concern to Chiefs is the fact that Zesco have a formidable home record.
In all competitions, they have lost just once in 10 home games, which makes leaving Zambia with a win an uphill task for the Soweto giants.