JOHANNESBURG – With Al Ahly, the Egyptian giants and eight-time CAF Champions League winners, already confirmed as their next opponents should they overcome Saint-Louisienne on Saturday, Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt said facing the continent’s most successful club will be enticing enough for his men to overturn a 2-1 deficit against the side from Reunion.
A 1-0 win at home will be enough for the Clever Boys to progress past the preliminary stages of the competition after striker Gabadinho Mhango scored the crucial away goal at the Stade Théophile Hoarau last weekend.
“It’s a big carrot for us to play the next round in Egypt,” said Hunt, whose side occupy the summit in the Absa Premiership following Wednesday night’s 2-1 victory over Orlando Pirates.
“People always criticise me (for putting out a B-team), but nobody criticised SuperSport United (who are playing in the less prestigious, but still credible, CAF Confederation Cup). Did you see their team?
“I will tell you the team we put out – we had Moeneeb Josephs in goal, we had (Siboniso) Gaxa at fullback, Bongani Khumalo, Buhle (Mkhwanazi), Sifiso Hlanti, Xola (Mlambo), Ben Motshwari, Cuthbert Malajila, Sifiso Myeni and Mhango. That’s not a bad team. So, people criticise me for playing that team, but those are the players in my squad and they have got to get some game time.”
Wits were knocked out of the 2015 and 2016 Confederation Cup in the early rounds of the tournament, giving weight to the bad press Hunt suffered. The coach has insisted that his fringe players were just never good enough then, and indeed almost all those in the starting line-up when they were beaten by Royal Leopards from Swaziland in the opening round of the Confederation Cup two years ago left the club four months later.
The depth and quality does not seem to be an issue this time around, with Wits boasting arguably the strongest team in the domestic league, including players who have experience in CAF tournaments with their former clubs.
“We will give it a go,” said Hunt, arguing that his men were unfortunate to concede a goal deep in injury time in the away leg.
“Our guys know that what you get in Africa is the mental and physical challenge. And the referees are much more lenient on those types of things. We are okay with that because most of our players have played in these conditions. But our record is not great in Africa. We got knocked out last year and the year before. Got criticised. But we are a club never the size of Pirates or Sundowns, who have done well on the continent.
“We have never won the league, so we need to be clever and box clever. I cannot change my team as much as some teams can, that’s why you’ve got to admire teams like Pirates and Sundowns.”