The CAF Champion’s League group stage draw which was conducted on Wednesday has pitted Township Rollers with African football giants Al-Ahly of Egypt, Esperance de Tunis from Tunisia as well as Kampala Capital City Authority FC (KCCA) of Uganda. Rollers coach Nikola Kavazovic had openly said he would like to avoid Al-Ahly at this stage. Rollers will start their group stage campaign by welcoming the Ugandans (KCCA FC) on the 5th of May 2018. Rollers spokesperson Bafana Pheto said they are very happy with the draw and the group that they are in. Pheto acknowledged that they will be playing football super powers but said being in the same group with them is an advantage for Rollers.
Pheto said playing Al-Ahly and Esperance will give Rollers the much needed experience of African football. “These are teams that have been in this competition for a very long time and they have a lot of experience. When playing with them, we will acquire the experience that will help us grow as a team,” said Pheto. Rollers management’s aim is to see the team growing into one of the biggest clubs in Africa. Pheto therefore said this will be a plus for them since getting this experience is a positive addition for the team to grow into future super powers. Pheto said they are going into the group stage having already attained their objective. According to him, this takes away all the pressure that might have come to them as a team. He said they will now be playing freely, especially that they are tagged underdogs. Definitely Rollers enter this stage as underdogs in all fronts as compared to the three teams. Pheto said this is an advantage for them to play their football. “These teams do not know us and we are not under any pressure since we are underdogs. It is them who will be under pressure while we will be relaxed,” he said. He, however, warned that they should not be overly undermined as they might pull up some surprises to reach the quarterfinals. To proceed to the next round Rollers need to finish in at least position two in Group A. Pheto acknowledged the strengths of their opponents and their records, but he said they will not be giving up before they put up a fight. “We will take each game as it comes. These are strong teams, yes but we will not be walk overs,” said Pheto.
This is how Rollers opponents look like.
The Ugandan champions have been playing in the CAF championship since 1998. However just like Rollers, KCCA FC has never reached the group stages. It is the first time for them to arrive here and some believe that Rollers might stand a better chance against them. Football analysts however feel this team will also a great threat to Rollers. One analyst Fabian Zulu said since the Ugandan side plays a very physical game, they will be a difficult team for Rollers. Zulu said local players always have difficulties playing physical games.
This is one Africa’s greatest, most celebrated and honored teams. Al-Ahly have always proven to be very strong, having won the CAF Champions League eight times. It has dominated for a number of years and produced quality players who ended up playing in Europe.
Esperance de Tunis
The Tunisian giants have a massive experience in CAF Champions League. Esperance de Tunis have won this competition two times and became finalist four times. This is prove of how strong the team is and surely will give a lot of opposition for Rollers.
Though most believe that Rollers will have a very difficult task in the Group A, Zulu is of a view that the local team is capable of pulling up a surprise. He said Rollers have proved to be very strong and their game in Tanzania against Young Africans is testimony. “Yes, the teams are strong but I believe that Rollers can do well in this group. They can actually do better than they did in Tanzania,” said Zulu. Just like Pheto, Zulu said the group is actually good for Rollers so that they can learn all types of football played by these teams as they are all playing differently. Zulu said what Rollers can do right now is work more on the physical fitness and mentality. According to him, since KCCA FC play a very physical game, Rollers should work to match them and then use the same strength against the other two opponents (Al-Ahly & Esperance). “The Ugandan side is more physical while the other two play European football and do not like contact. If Rollers can be more physical playing against them then they can be able to get something out of the match,” elaborated Zulu. He gave an example how Zebras in the 2012 AFCON qualifiers managed to beat Tunisia because of physical strength. However, Zulu cautioned that Rollers should have a strong mentality when they get into these games. He said the team should not come in with the mentality of saying they just wanted to reach the group stage as that will make them lose. Rollers officials, however, have made it clear that they will not be walk overs in this competition. There has always been an issue of money – that playing CAF especially at this stage is very expensive and local clubs always pull out of the competition, citing lack of funds. Asked whether Rollers are ready financially Pheto previously told this publication that they had planned to reach this stage and they are ready for it.