REIGNING premier league champions, Bantu, will on Sunday start their CAF Champions League campaign with a clash against Zambia’s Nkana in the preliminary phase of the tournament at Setsoto Stadium.
The return fixture will be played in Kwite, Zambia on the 5 December 2020.
Coach Bob Mafoso will be faced with a mammoth task as supporters are expecting the team to surpass its 2018 record where they went beyond the preliminary stage under James Madidilane after beating Township rollers of Botswana.
A Matšo Matebele however, failed to go any further after being knocked out by Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC’s) AS VITA.
Mafoso is not new to the Champions’ League as he was part of Bantu’s technical team in 2017 where they played Mbabane Swallows of eSwatini in the preliminary stages where they lost 4-2 at home to win 3-1 in eSwatini and were knocked out on goal difference.
There is no doubt that Mafoso knows what is expected of him but at the same time, things are a bit different now due to Covid-19 as Bantu last played a competitive match in March when football activities were halted by the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA).
In preparation for the two encounters, Bantu played two practice matches with GladAfrica Championship side, Free State Stars last Saturday. They lost both matches.
It is not going to be easy to beat Nkana after a prolonged period of inactivity. The squad is definitely rusty and lacking match fitness.
What might work for Mafoso is that the core of his team was called up for national duty when Likuena was playing in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against Benin.
Nkana are not push overs, they are the second most successful team in the Zambian Premier League and are also not new to the CAF Champions’ League competition having surpassed the preliminary stages twice.
Lindokhuhle Phungulwa’s injury is also making things worse for Mafoso as he has been one of the most important members of the team.
Phungulwa is tireless. In a team that is set massively around ball possession such as of Mafoso’s version of Bantu, they need a player in the midfield, in front of the defensive line, to give them non-stop cover from penetrating passes, breaking the oppositions attack and having a high volume of physical output.
The South African citizen does not only do the above in an unprecedented manner for the Mafeteng outfit, but he constantly provides support for the offensive players going forwards, winning the ball at the right moment before immediately setting up counter attacks for his team’s deadly attackers, and has also scored on different occasions. That was before the injury he suffered at the end of the 2018 season.
The injury ruled him out for the whole of last season and it looks like it will be the same case this season.
Before that, Bantu enjoyed so much balance thanks to Phungulwa’s output. He is intelligent, reads the game well, and anticipates the opposition’s moves, combative, modest, and generous. He is an exemplary team player needed in a team setup such as Bantu.
However, Bantu has an advantage of starting at home and fortunately for them, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro on Sunday announced that now 50 percent of the stadium’s capacity will be allowed to watch the match. This will be a huge moral boost for Bantu.
While Nkana will not be a walk in a park for Bantu, I believe they can still be defeated especially here at home. Mafoso’s charges should take advantage of starting at home to relieve themselves of pressure going into the reverse tie.
Best of luck to Mafoso and his charges!