Kaizer Chiefs sound warning to the continent
Only in football could something so improbable become a possibility – Kaizer Chiefs have one foot in the Caf Champions League final after dramatically edging the away leg of their semifinal against Wydad Casablanca 1-0 in Casablanca on Saturday night.
Samir Nurkovic’s 34th-minute strike at Casablanca’s Stade Mohamed V earned Chiefs their most heroic victory of recent memory.
What was lacked in prettiness – about the least important ingredient in such a match – was made up for and then some in sheer guts and determination. Fired-up Chiefs worked tirelessly to cover each blade of grass, harass and throw their bodies into everything.
Chiefs are the shock entrants to the semifinals having never before reached the group stage, and in a miserable season where they scrambled a top eight finish in the DStv Premiership in a sixth campaign trophyless.
They are the rank underdogs of the semi against the 2017 champions of the tournament, and one of the best-performing teams on the continent of the past half-decade.
Now, if they keep their heads and display this level of calm fight – whipped on by the caretaker-coach Arthur Zwane’s barrage of intense exhortation that could be clearly heard on the touchline – in the return at FNB Stadium on Saturday, they can achieve what had seemed impossible.
Amakhosi’s travelling brains trust – Zwane and Dillon Sheppard on the bench, and Stuart Baxter and Molefi Ntseki in the stands – had the bus unashamedly parked in a 3-5-2 formation.
Chiefs were always going to have to ride their luck. But they also mostly made Wydad, with all the crack Moroccan outfit’s possession, play in front of Amakhosi’s defensive structure.
Bruce Bvuma’s form kept him in goal despite Daniel Akpeyi and Itumeleng Khune being available. His stops and heart proved key to the result.
Chiefs did ride plenty of luck in the opening half. Wydad right wing Mohammed Ounajem’s cross was headed on target by left wing Muaid Ellafi, Bvuma stopping.
On the break Njabulo Blom was played down the right and shaped a pass inside around a defender, who played Nurkovic onside, the Serb sweeping past goalkeeper Ahmed Tagnaouti. The assistant-referee incorrectly raised his flag.
It was Chiefs’ first in a match with video assistant referee (VAR), and their experience was a positive one, the correct decision installed after consultation by Senegalese referee Maguette Ndiaye.
The more Wydad piled on the pressure from the break, the more Chiefs absorbed it.
An Ellafi’s free-kick skimmed the crossbar. Midfielder Aymane Hassouni’s drive stretched Bvuma. Centreback Achraf Dari headed over. As with most challenges Wydad won, he had to muscle through the close attention of two defenders.
Walid El Karti turned Siyabonga Ngezana and crossed, Bvuma making a point-blank stop from Ayoub Al Kaabi.