Absa Premiership

Preview: Zesco v Sundowns

Pitso Mosimane (Gallo Images)
Pitso Mosimane (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It’s an all-southern African affair as Zambia's Zesco United host South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns in a first leg CAF Champions League semi-final encounter on Saturday afternoon.

Big spending Sundowns have never won the continent's most prized club trophy, but did reach the final back in 2001, when they lost to Egyptian giants Al Ahly.

Zesco, meanwhile, are stepping into unchartered waters, the Ndola-based club never made it past the round of 16 before.

In reaching the semi-finals, the un-fancied Zambian team have beaten some of Africa's biggest clubs, including Ah Ahly and Ivory Coast outfit ASEC Mimosas, putting three goals past both clubs at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium.

Key to their outstanding run in the competition have been Zambian midfielder Clatous Chama, DR Congo striker Idris Mbombo and Kenyan marksman Jesse Were - the trio have a combined tally of 13 goals in the competition.

Sundowns, on the other hand, have been somewhat fortunate to make it as far as they have - they were knocked out in the second round by AS Vita but then reinstated into the competition after the DR Congo club were disqualified.

Nevertheless, Pitso Mosimane's side have made the most of their second chance, proving their credentials with victories over former champions such as Enyimba and Zamalek along the way.

They have also been indebted to a trio of players - Khama Billiat, Leonardo Castro and Keagan Dolly, for scoring or creating a large portion of their goals in Africa. Bafana Bafana midfielder Hlompho Kekana has also been outstanding for the Pretoria team.

Zesco have had several league games postponed to allow them to focus on the game, while head coach George Lwandamina was this week relieved of his national team duties - he has been the Zambian caretaker manager for the last few months - in order to put all of his energy into the upcoming semi-finals.

Sundowns however have not had such a restful time. Not only have they been heavily involved in domestic league and cup action, they have also seen a host of their players called up for national team duty.

'Downs coach Pitso Mosimane has been happy about the PSL's unwillingness to postpone games, although he may use this to create an 'us against the world' mentality in the Downs dressing room.

Mosimane believes an away goal could be crucial in the outcome of the game.

"We would like to win. It's not easy and it's not like you just go and win. Zesco is a very good team and they've got a very good attack - an unbelievable attack.

“We need to be well organized like we were against Chippa United, but hopefully we will score away, which we did not do [against Chippa in the MTN8 competition]," said Mosimane.

"I'm hopeful we will score against Zesco. Even if we get a draw, as long as we score it will also be very good. If we don't win, at least we'll get a decent result," he added.

Zesco boss Lwandamina meanwhile is confident that his men are ready for the game, and has called on the club's fans to rally behind the team.

"I urge Sundowns not to be excited. The boys are ready for the task and they will definitely handle our opponents well," he was quoted as saying on the Zambia24 website.

"Players need motivation and that can only come from the fans. They should not just fold their arms and wait for a miracle. Any miracle performed in the Bible involved people; it is my hope that Zambians will offer their support on Saturday," Lwandamina added.

Apart from Sundowns striker Castro, who is out injured, both sides are expected to have full strength squads available for Saturday's showdown.

The match takes place at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium at 15:30 (SA time).

The second-leg encounter is scheduled for Saturday, 24 September at the Loftus Stadium in Pretoria.