Kaizer Chiefs can use Confederation Cup to change mood at Naturena

Kaizer Chiefs players dejected after defeat Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

The 2018 CAF Confederation Cup is not yet over but already the new campaign starts in the continent's secondary knockout competition on Tuesday as teams enter the preliminary round.

Raja Casablanca hold a commanding 3-0 first-leg lead over AS Vita Club in the final of the current competition but still face what will surely be a daunting trip to Kinshasa for the return fixture on Sunday, especially as the Congolese felt hard done by in the opening game. 

But before that matter is concluded, the first legs of the preliminary rounds of the 2018-19 competition get under way as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) squeezes what has traditionally been a 10 month tournament into a helter-skelter version that will run from now until May.

It sees the return to African competition of Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa's most successful club who have endured something of a love-hate relationship with continental football in the past.

They were 2001 winners of the now-defunct African Cup Winners' Cup, but have since also shown disdain for competing, especially outside of the elite Champions League.

How they will tackle this year's tournament will be intriguing as they battle on the domestic front after more than three trophyless years. 

Do they play fringe players and concentrate on the South African league and upcoming Nedbank Cup, which starts in January, or do they see the Confederation Cup as a vehicle to reignite the imagination of supporters and finally end their trophy drought?

Looking at the entry list, they should be one of the favourites, on paper at least, if they can find the energy and the desire to compete.

Raja Casablanca will enter again if they go on to lift the trophy, otherwise their spot will be taken by compatriots SM Sanga Balende. There is also the Egyptian duo of Zamalek and Al-Masry, and the Tunisian pair of Etoile du Sahel and CS Sfaxien.

All of those have byes into the first round proper and, of course, there will be entrants that drop out of the Champions League later in the competition, but it does not look like the most taxing of fields.

Chiefs start their campaign against Zanzibar minnows Zimamoto in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, and their beleaguered Italian coach Giovanni Solinas, so desperate for success, appears to be taking the competition seriously.

"We started the season with several targets, several objectives," Solinas told reporters on Saturday.

"The first one was the MTN8 and now we lost the opportunity to win this cup [the Telkom Knockout]. Now we have three more trophies - the league, CAF Confederation Cup and the Nedbank Cup. We'll continue fighting.

"Me, I know I'll never give up. I'll continue to work hard to try and win the trophies. I'll try to improve the team."

South African side Free State Stars will make their debut in African club competition when they host Rwandan side Mukura Victory Sports at the Bidvest Stadium in Johannesburg, some 275 kilometres from their usual Bethlehem home.

The move is in part to cut costs because if Stars had wanted to play the game at their Goble Park home they would have had to fly the entire Rwandan entourage to Bloemfontein as CAF do not allow visiting teams to travel more than 200 kilometres by road.

It will be a feature of Stars' campaign for as long as they stay in the competition, but should not worry co-caretaker coaches Sly Mosala and David Vilakazi, who have taken charge of the side after the departure of Belgian coach Luc Eymael.

The Bidvest Stadium pitch is among the best in the country and will allow Stars to play their fast-paced football.

Zambia also have a pair of teams in the competition as Green Buffaloes host Al-Merreikh Juba from South Sudan on Wednesday and Green Eagles entertain Young Buffaloes from Swaziland 24 hours earlier. 

Nigeria's Enugu Rangers will host Defence Force from Ethiopia on Wednesday, while Ivory Coast side Stade d'Abidjan face a difficult trip to Mauritania to meet Nouakchott Kings.

Miracle Club from the Comoros might need just that when they host Libyan side Al-Ittihad, who have proven difficult customers in the past and have been semifinalists in African club competition three times in the past. 

One team already through to the next stage is Ghanaian side Asante Kotoko, who received a walkover after the Cameroon authorities did not confirm Eding Sport as their entrant by the CAF deadline.

The second legs of these ties will be played on December 4-5.