Ricky Zililo Senior Sports Reporter
SOUTH African Premier Soccer League giants Mamelodi Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane is wary of his Caf Champions League preliminary round opponents Chicken Inn, whom he described as a “very good side and tough team”.
Sundowns will visit Zimbabwe for the first leg on the weekend of February 12-14, with the return fixture set for a fortnight later in Pretoria.
However, the Brazilians, as Sundowns are commonly known, could be playing mind games by declaring the Gamecocks as tough opponents since they boast a wealth of talent compared to Chicken Inn.
Most of Sundowns’ players, who include Liberian forward Antony Laffour, Botswana’s attacking midfielder Mogakolodi Ngele, South Africans Teko Modise, Keegan Dolly, Ramahlwe Mpahlele and Bongani Zungu, are all key members of their respective national teams.
They also boast of the Zimbabwean duo of in-form midfielder Khama Billiat and striker Cuthbert Malajila. With such an array of talent at his disposal, Mosimane could be trying to take the pressure off his charges when they visit Zimbabwe.
“We’ve been drawn against a very good side. In fact, I think our draw is tougher than (Kaizer) Chiefs. Chicken Inn isn’t an easy team,” said Mosimane on the official Sundowns’ website.
Kaizer Chiefs will meet Volcan de Moroni of the Comoros in the preliminary round of the competition on the weekend of February 12-14.
Sundowns are familiar with facilities in Bulawayo as they held two pre-season camps in the city and played friendlies against Highlanders in 2013 and 2014. During their stay in Bulawayo, Sundowns trained at Luveve Stadium and played their friendly matches at Barbourfields Stadium.
“They (Chicken Inn) are a young team, and we signed Kuda Mahachi from them. We’re doing our homework, but we also have held our pre-season camps in Zimbabwe in the past two years, and we’re quite familiar with the environment and the stadium, which is more like Orlen Park, the stadium Jomo Cosmos use in Potchefstroom,” Mosimane said.
Besides the advantage of having regular internationals in their side, another plus for Sundowns going into the Chicken Inn game is that they will be match fit as the South African season is halfway through, while the Gamecocks are coming from off-season.
Chicken Inn coach Joey Antipas spoke about the need for an early season preparation in December ahead of their Champions League maiden appearance.
The Gamecocks began their pre-season training yesterday, starting with a morning gym session.
“The draw that we’ve been given is tricky, but you never know, we can spring some shockers. Mamelodi Sundowns are one of the best teams in Southern Africa and we expect a tight game against them. As we go for the pre-season, we’ve to plan well and counter the disadvantage that we face. Disadvantage in the sense that we will be coming from off-season and they will be in the groove since their league is approaching its halfway. However, this isn’t an excuse and we will have to work extra hard to get the boys in the right state for an early season,” Antipas said after their Easycall Cup final loss to Highlanders in December.
Chicken Inn beefed up their side with four player additions – defender Teenage Hadebe and strikers Obidiah Tarumbwa, Physiwell Madhazi and Moses Demera.
Madhazi and Demera are from relegated sides Dongo Sawmill and Flame Lily respectively, while Hadede and Tarumbwa were on loan at Highlanders from Bantu Rovers.