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 By Mark Gleeson

Kaizer Chiefs stumbling again in CAF Champions League

Kaizer Chiefs
While Kaizer Chiefs have been a major player in domestic football, the South African giants have failed to make an impact in continental competition.

Kaizer Chiefs might be South Africa's most popular and successful club, but their record in continental club competition is in stark contrast to the reach and profitability of their brand.

Over the last four decades, Chiefs have won more league titles and cup trophies than any other South African team, and were also victors in the now-defunct African Cup Winners' Cup 15 years ago.

But their CAF Champions League record is poor, as they have never qualified for the group phase, making them an underachiever in comparison to other clubs of similar stature and support elsewhere on the continent.

This year offered the opportunity to change that, but after advancing past the preliminary round, the Soweto giants look to be headed out in the first round, as they go through something of a crisis of confidence.

A 1-0 defeat at home at the weekend at the hands of ASEC Abidjan leaves Chiefs needing to reverse the result in the return leg in the Ivory Coast this Sunday just to advance to the second round -- the final qualifying round before the group stage.

It seems a bridge too far for a club suffering an end of season dip in form that sees them almost sure to cede their domestic crown and finish the campaign without any silverware -- something they are not used to.

The Champions League offered the chance for some redemption for coach Steve Komphela, who had been hoping to point to group phase qualification as a success in a season in which they have lost in two cup finals. It also offered Chiefs a chance to reach uncharted waters and rekindle some energy from crowds that have been slowly dwindling as a disappointing season unfolds.

Usually Chiefs have an ambivalent approach to competing in the annual African club competitions and twice before incurred bans from the Confederation of African Football for withdrawing from tournaments in mid-stream.

Their priority has always been to continue domestic dominance, where they have a lucrative hold on the sponsorship and merchandising market. But last Saturday at Soccer City, site of the 2010 World Cup final, Chiefs blew their chance at redemption in a limp performance that holds out little hope for the return.

Chiefs were one of four clubs who lost at home in the first leg of their second round tie and are expected to be eliminated this weekend. Former continental champions Union Douala of Cameroon; Nigeria's Warri Wolves and APR FC from Rwanda were the others.

TP Mazembe Englebert's defence of their Champions League title started at the weekend against Saint George in Addis Ababa, where vociferous support for local teams has always made the National Stadium atmosphere daunting for visiting teams. But Mazembe were never expected to struggle, intimidation aside, in the first leg of their second round tie and so it proved in a 2-2 draw.

"It was a very good game on both sides. Saint George took advantage of the few opportunities they had to score twice. They construct their game very well; they're a very interesting team. From our perspective, it was a good match in the sense that we managed to score twice away, which put us in a good position for the return, even though nothing is settle," said Mazembe's new coach Hubert Velud. "There was a positive atmosphere to the whole match but the downside for us was conceding twice. We will need be very cautious in the second leg because St George are a good side."

The largest margins of victory in the 16 first leg games came in Casablanca where Morocco's Wydad hammered Caisse Nationale de Prevoyance Sociale Sports, the club owned by a social security provider in Madagascar, and in Aba, Nigeria where Enyimba clobbered Vital'O from Burundi. Both matches finished 5-1 in favour of the hosts.

Wydad were 4-0 up before the 20-minute mark to effectively kill off their tie early, even though they face a long voyage to the Indian Ocean island for this weekend's return in Antananarivo.

Wydad's coach is John Toshack, the former Welsh striker who coached Real Madrid to the Spanish title but never won any European club competition prize during his days in Spain and Turkey.

Enyimba retain the distinction of being the only Nigeria club to have ever won the continent's top club prize but those glory days were more than a decade ago now. They will be hoping to resurrect them under the tutelage of Paul Aigbogun, who recently returned to the club.

But outside of Wydad and Enyimba, most of the teams go into this weekend's return legs with plenty of work to do.

Mark Gleeson covers African football for ESPN FC.

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