For a second year in succession, a South African club has accused opposition from the Democratic Republic of Congo of playing dirty in the CAF Champions League. Kaizer Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter spewed his disgust with what he suggested were time-wasting tactics by Kinshasa-based club AS Vita, which he believed had the referee's buy-in.
"I have never played in a game where the frustration level -- due to a referee or an opponent that is constantly cheating -- is so high," Baxter said after Chiefs were dumped out of contention for the group stage despite a 2-0 win at home. Chiefs needed four unanswered goals to advance, after losing the first fixture 3-0, but it was not the away leg about which they complained.
If there was going to be controversy, South Africans would have expected it to come out of Kinshasa, especially in light of what happened last year. Orlando Pirates were drawn against TP Mazembe at the same stage, the second round. Pirates won 3-1 at home before heading to Lubumbashi, where they knew they would need a healthy cushion because Mazembe are known as fearsome protectors of their territory.
On Pirates' return home, their then-coach Roger de Sa confirmed as much. He told a tale of what he called "blatant cheating", and a desperate Mazembe. The home side were awarded two penalties which de Sa labelled "dubious". Had they converted both, it would have been enough to take them to the group stage but Pirates' goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa pulled off twin saves.
De Sa also complained about the red card Pirates copped and hinted that additional extra time was given unfairly in the hope Mazembe would score. "The entire 100 minutes of football that we played there was frightening," de Sa said. "It was worse than a movie."
There was no television coverage to cross-reference de Sa's claims against because the South African camera crew who had gone to cover the match were not allowed to broadcast it back to the country. De Sa's account was all people had to go on and he went as far as to question, "how Mazembe got those four stars on their crest."
The South African Football Association expressed "strong dissatisfaction", to the CAF with their way their team was treated in the DRC, but the matter did not go any further than that. It probably didn't need to. Pirates lost 1-0 but had done enough at home to see them through to the group stage and could forget about what they made out to be a nightmare.
Chiefs returned without a parallel tale of woe. Unlike Muhammad Ali, who fought the Rumble in the Jungle at the same venue in which this match was played, Chiefs did not float like butterflies or sting like bees. They simply fired blanks. Ndombe Mubele's hat-trick sunk them as deeply as their own array of missed chances in front of goal. Again, there was no television coverage in South Africa to confirm.
They promised to take on AS Vita at home with renewed fight. Chiefs talked up the advantage a home crowd would give them and how they would be able to find the back of the net regularly in the return leg. They even looked like they would make good on that promise when they took the lead in the 10th minute and continued to press forward, albeit without further success.
Chiefs had a penalty appeal for a hand ball turned down in the second half but found another goal in injury time, when it was too late. Baxter claimed his men had been denied time -- the opposite of what happened to Pirates -- because of the actions of both the referee Rainhold Shikongo and the AS Vita goalkeeper.
"We hoped the referee would take into account the 15 seconds their goalkeeper took every time he got the ball. When he gave us three extra minutes it felt like a smack in the face," he said. "When the rest of the world sees a goalkeeper fake an injury five or six times they laugh at Africa."
Baxter's verbal barrage may seem like nothing but bitterness, but it seems he is not the only Chief upset with the continental game. The club as a whole appear to be disgruntled and admitted they are yet to decide if they will honour their qualification into the CAF Confederations Cup -- Africa's version of the Europa League.
If they choose not to compete in that tournament, they could face a three-year sanction from continental club competitions. Chiefs have already been down that road once before. In 2002, they did not travel to Madagascar to play a CAF Winners' Cup game because of political upheaval on the island and were banned for three years. It remains to be seen what the South Africans will decide.