05/15/2012 1:03 AM
Against all odds, Black Leopards qualified for the last 16 of the CAF Confederation Cup. Tiyani w aka Mabasa travelled with them to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and recalls how Leopards earned their spot.
Tueasday, April 13.
There is a sense of elation as Leopards board their Kenyan Airways flight to Nairobi, where they wil connect for a flight to Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They’ve just beaten Kaizer Chiefs 1-0 ay Soccer City in a Premiership fixture, on their way to face FC Saint Lupopo in a CAF Confederation Cup second-leg match.
Wednesday, April 14
The team arrives in Lubumbashi at 11:30 after a 12-hour journey, and it’s very hot. The first news is not great- Lupopo have selected a dingy hotel across the road from a brothel to accommodate their guests. Leopards management act swiftly and move the 18-man squad to the four -star Grand Kavaria hotel at a cost over R120 000… excluding meals. Leopards boss David Thidiela complains about the substandard first option. “It was not even a two-star hotel and the lift was not working,” he says. The team does not train, though, and spend most of the day relaxing in their rooms after a long trip.
Thursday, April 5
The team have their first training session at the Stade Frederic Kibassa Maliba at 15:00. Rodney Ramagalela sits out the session, and confirms to KICK-OFF that he is out of the match because of the foot injury he sustained against Chiefs. Surprisingly, there is no security at the stadium and Lupopo fans stream in to sit on the main grandstands. Leopards are put through their paces while Ramagalela helps out by serving water to the players. As the team trains, the watching Lupopo fans heckle from the side-lines- the teams’ technical director Sunday Chidzambwa is a target as the crowd tells him that Leopards will be in for a torrid time. Most predict a 5-0 victory for the home team.
After training, the Leopards players come off to speak to the Congelese media, and goalkeeper Posnett Omony is picked from the group because he speaks Swahili. Team Captain Mongezi Bobe also enters the fray, and he is adamant throughout the interview that Lupopo won’t have it all their own way despite playing at home. The interviews are continuously disrupted by the Lupopo fans, who are very confident despite their team trailing 4-2 from the first leg. My feeling is that the Leopards players are very confident too, especially on the back of a major victory against Chiefs.
The players eventually board their bus while the heckling by the Lupopo fans continues unabated. The Leopards players are undaunted, however, and give as good as they get. The fans shout at the players, but Tiyane Mabunda gestures back, signalling that Leopards are ready for the fight. I ask Omony about conditions and the mood in the team when we get back to the hotel. He tells me “the artificial pitch is not bad” and that the team is confident of a win….To be Continued.
Stay tuned for the second part of the journey of Leopards to the Last 16.