Harare – Mbabane Swallows of Swaziland are toasting the glory of their trailblazing show after becoming the first football club from their tiny kingdom to qualify for the group stages of the caf Champions League on a landmark weekend in which Township Rollers of Botswana also scripted a historical feat for their nation by booking their place in the Last 16.
The winds of change are certainly blowing across African football, as former champions ASEC Mimosas crashed out of the continent’s flagship inter-club knockout tournament after a shock home loss, having won the away fixture in Zambia against ZESCO United, while five-time champions TP Mazembe barely hung on to their adventure after a 0-3 mauling in Mozambique.
The Ivorians giants’ sole triumph in the competition came in 1998 when, amid a blaze of controversy in the return leg of the final in Abidjan, Memory Mucherahowa, the then inspirational captain of Zimbabwean football giants Dynamos, was attacked by the host players during warm-up and had to be rushed to hospital after suffering a concussion and missing the biggest match of his career.
Three years earlier, ASEC Mimosas had also forced a draw in the first leg of the final against South African powerhouse Orlando Pirates only for the Soweto giants to produce a shock victory in Abidjan, courtesy of a Jerry Sikhosana golden goal, to be crowned African champions at the expense of the West Africans.
After another Zimbabwean club CAPS United led the way by eliminating TP Mazembe from the knockout phase of the tournament last year, a number of unfashionable clubs, including some in Southern Africa, made a mockery of their lightweight status as they made it into the money-spinning phase of the tournament.
Mbabane Swallows led the way with their sensational elimination of Zambian giants Zanaco 3-1 on aggregate, after winning both legs of their showdown, to become the first Swazi side to make it into the group stages of the CAF Champions League.
And they were not the only ones making history in a weekend in which the so-called underdogs flexed their muscles as clubs from Botswana, Guinea and Togo and Uganda will also have a representation at the mini-league stage for the first time in their history.
Township Rollers of Botswana, Horoya of Guinea, AS Togo of Togo and Ugandan champions KCCA made it into the Last 16 of the tournament.
Qualifiers for the group stages can earn, at least, US$550,000.
Mbabane Swallows have shown, of late, that they have been growing in stature and can possibly stand toe-to-toe against the heavyweights of the game on the continent and they showed remarkable pedigree to beat Zanaco in their Zambian backyard 2-1 and set the stage for their triumph.
And, they made sure they did not waste that advantage by winning 1-0 at home to send the entire Swazi nation into delirium.
“The support was massive and we are really grateful to the nation for rallying behind the team,” club general manager Sandile Zwane said after his team’s landmark triumph.
“We do ask that they continue supporting us now more than before as we are entering an even more difficult stage in the tournament.”
Coach Thabo Koki Vilakati showered praise on his players for their fighting spirit and character in which they refused to be overawed by the pedigree of their opponents.
“We really needed that goal to put the tie beyond our opponents’ reach and when it came we knew it was for us to lose,” he said.
“We would like to dedicate this to the nation who have been very supportive of our cause.”
There will certainly be questions in Zambia, a country which is a stronger football nation than Swaziland, as to how this Zanaco debacle unfolded.
“It was a 50-50 affair and both teams played good football. We lost the ties at home where we didn’t play well,” said Zanaco coach Numba Mumamba.
He won’t be the only one feeling low right now as ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire and AS Vita of the Democratic Republic of Congo, two former winners of the tournament, also bowed out of the CAF Champions League. Mimosas’s fall was Southern Africa’s gain, as Zambia’s ZESCO United recovered from a home defeat in the first leg to beat the Ivorians in their backyard 2-1 and make it through the away goals rule.
When Gbagnon Badie converted a penalty after only seven minutes in Abidjan, to make it 2-0 on aggregate for the hosts, it looked doom and gloom for the Zambians but, to their credit, they refused to collapse and goals by Frackson Kampumbu and Lazarous Kambole powered them home and into the group stages.
Township Rollers of Botswana eliminated Young Africans of Tanzania 2-1 on aggregate.
“Township Rollers FC family heartily thanks all supporters from all the corners of Botswana, both from TRFC and other teams around Botswana for their unwavering support towards the team when we hosted Young Africans SC from Tanzania in the return leg game on Saturday,” club public relations officer, Phempherethe Bafana Pheto, said in a statement released on the team’s official website.
“As a team, we were dignified by your support which was a sign of unity and tolerance to each other, especially as the team was representing not only itself but the nation and as a BFA ambassador.
“Our dream of #tlatsalebala was indeed achieved. All thanks to the Botswana football lovers and supporters of our BOTSWANA football teams.
“We wish to thank everyone for their support, their valued presence to watch our team, their love for our team and we wish to see more of your support as we play the African giants in the next stage.
Botswana was indeed united and solid.
“We also thank our Lord for protecting our people as they were travelling across the length and breadth of Botswana to make themselves available to watch the game at the stadium. We also thank those from our neighbouring countries who also came to witness history being written in Botswana.
“Special thanks to the Botswana Football Association and the Botswana Premier League. Other organizations to thank are our sponsors at TRFC, the media, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture and the Botswana National Sports Council.”
Saturday, 17 March 2018
KCCA (Uganda) 1-0 Saint George
Mbabane Swallows (Swaziland) 1-0
Zanaco (Zambia) (2-1)
Williamsville (Cote d’Ivoire) 2-0
Wydad (Morocco) (2-7)
CF Mounana (Gabon) 1-3 Al Ahly (Egypt) (0-4)
MC Alger (Algeria) 5-0 MFM (Nigeria) (1-2)
Generation Foot (Senegal) 0-2 Horoya
Township Rollers (Botswana) 0-0 Young Africans (Tanzania) (2-1)
UD Songo (Mozambique) 3-0 TP Mazembe
(DR Congo) (0-4)
Bidvest (South Africa) 1-0 (2-3pen)
Primeiro de Agosto (Angola) (0-1)
Sunday, 18 March 2018
ES Setif (Algeria) 4-0 Aduana (Ghana) (1-0)
Esperance (Tunisia) 1-0 Gor Mahia (Kenya) (0-0)
Plateau United (Nigeria) 1-0 Etoile du Sahel
El Hilal (Sudan) 3-1 AS Togo (Togo) (0-2)
ASEC Mimosas (Cote d’Ivoire) 1-2 ZESCO
AS Vita (DR Congo) 2-2 Difaa El Jadidi (Morocco) (0-1)Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) 2-0
Rayon Sport (Rwanda) (0-0)
KCCA (Uganda), Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa), Difaa El Jadidi (Morocco), ZESCO (Zambia), AS Togo (Togo), Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia), Esperance (Tunisia), ES Setif (Algeria), Primeiro de Agosto (Angola), TP Mazembe (DR Congo), Township Rollers (Botswana), Horoya (Guinea), MC Alger (Algeria), Al Ahly (Egypt), Wydad (Morocco), Mbabane Swallows (Swaziland)