Weary South African clubs start CAF adventure this weekend

Eric Tinkler, coach of SuperSport United Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Bidvest Wits and Cape Town City will begin their bids to conquer the African continent this weekend with the start of the 2018 Confederation of African Football club competitions.

Wits qualified for the Champions League after they were crowned South African league winners last year, while City make their continental debut in the Confederation Cup.

Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United have been given a bye through the second round of the same two competitions respectively.

It is the start of a long journey for those teams who have designs on making it to the latter stages, a path so arduous that SuperSport coach Eric Tinkler has suggested this may be the last season they compete on the continent for the foreseeable future.

SuperSport made the final of the Confederation Cup in 2017 where they narrowly lost to the Democratic Republic of Congo side Tout Puissant Mazembe, but Tinkler believes that it took too much out of them and their domestic form has suffered as a result.

"If it affects the team the way it has this season then I don't think it is worth it," Tinkler told reporters.

"I have now experienced it twice and I have seen what effect it has on the team and we need to seriously rethink whether we are going to be actively involved in that seriously or not.

"I think there's not team that has gone to a CAF final that has not felt this. I think we saw it with Mamelodi Sundowns. I experienced it with [Orlando] Pirates and I don't think people actually understand how difficult it is."

Wits start their campaign home to Pamplemousses FC from Mauritius, the reigning champions in their domestic league.

The islanders are no strangers to South African opposition after they took on Moroka Swallows in the 2010 version of the Confederation Cup, going down 5-1 on aggregate to The Birds.

They have a number of players in the Mauritian national team, including goalkeeper Kevin Jean-Louis, defender Mervyn Jocelyn, and midfielders Kerlson Agathe and Kevin Perticots.

But despite this, they should be easy meat for Wits, even if the South Africans field a weakened side.

The return leg will be taxing with the side playing in Durban in a league game on the Saturday, flying to Mauritius for the midweek encounter and then straight to Cape Town for another league game a few days later.

"Last year we were unlucky. We drew Al Ahly and lost 1-0 in two games [in the Champions League] and then we lost to Smouha in the Confederation Cup. We lost 1-0 with a penalty over two games," Gavin Hunt told journalists.

"We gave it a full go last year and we will give it a full go this year. We have two rounds to get into a group, so we'll see. The Champions League helped us win the league last year because everyone had to play."

If Wits advance they will face the winners of the tie between FC Platinum of Zimbabwe and Primeiro de Agosto of Angola for a place in the group stages.

Sundowns await the winner of the tie between Rwandan side Rayon Sports and LLB Académic FC of Burundi in their second-round clash, with the expectation that they would beat either side.

Cape Town City make their bow with a modest tie against Young Buffaloes from Swaziland.

This competition will stretch the depth of coach Benni McCarthy's squad, but it seems virtually inconceivable that the side will not get the better of their opponents over two legs.

They are away in Mbabane for the first leg on Saturday.

"We want to have a full go at the CAF competition," City owner John Comitis told IOL. "We will use the opportunity to rotate, though we are a little disappointed that we have not been able to register new signings Allan Kateregga and Matthew Rusike.

"We will have to wait until the next round before we can add them to our CAF squad. In any case, we are only expecting to have Rusike's international clearance later this week."

Potentially waiting for City are in the next round will be Costa do Sol of Mozambique or Botswana's Jwaneng Galaxy.

If they advance past that then they would still need to beat one of the losers from the Champions League second round to reach the Confederation Cup group stages.

SuperSport will keep an eye on the first round tie between Petro de Luanda of Angola and Malawian side Masters Security to see who their opponents will be in the next stage.