Chiefs were twice torn apart by Champions League dropouts ZESCO United in their Confed Cup group stage play-off, going down 2-1 at home on Saturday evening to exit the competition 5-2 on aggregate.
Amakhosi proved no match for the Zambian champions as they failed to carve out clear-cut chances while looking vulnerable in defence throughout the night at FNB Stadium.
Middendorp conceded that ZESCO were the better side over both legs but defended that fatigue noticeably begun to creep in, singling out some individuals who lacked sharpness.
“It’s not only about identification on this night, I think. Of course, over the two games, if you assess them, it’s a fully deserved qualification to the next round for ZESCO,” said Middendorp.
“I think they hadn’t made any mistakes in defence or attack. When they had the possibilities to score or make it happen, they took their chances.
“I only want to refer to the work we had to provide – If you take our first game in Ndola, three days before we had a really intense game against the log leaders here in South Africa Bidvest Wits and we won it with an excellent performance – very clearly, there were no mistakes.
“Then the return game [against ZESCO], three days before we had to play a very intense game against AmaZulu in Durban – travelling included. In terms of performance I would say probably not the same, but it was still intense, the weather was very heavy and demanded a lot of work.
“In both cases, if you take the players – for example, [Hendrick] Ekstein against Bidvest and Ekstein on Wednesday [covered] 13kms and 2300m intensive sprints, while [on Saturday] probably 10kms and 800-900m sprints.
“Also, a young player like [Siphosakhe] Ntiya-Ntiya, in both games against Bidvest and AmaZulu he was excellent.
“It’s not excusing, it’s just mentioning the facts to understand why certain players made mistakes that they hadn’t made three days before – over both legs.”
The German tactician also argued that they were able to get away with minimal preparation time against lowly-ranked Elgeco Plus, but the same cannot be expected when facing a competitive ZESCO outfit amid four fixtures in the space of just nine days.
“We are also not playing against a team … With all due respect, but the level of Madagascar compared to the champions of Zambia, I think there’s a huge difference,” he added.
“We have to make it very clear if we want to see our teams going and being successful in this international business, we need at least one clear week of preparation time to be fresh and fit, and to have a chance to compete.
“But compliments to my entire team, we tried and made mistakes in the wrong moments and that’s why we’ve had a result like this. Unfortunately, we have not qualified but we now go on to the next game – our sixth one next week [in three weeks].”
Chiefs next visit ABC Motsepe League outfit Tornado FC in their Nedbank Cup opener set for the Sisa Dukashe Stadium on Sunday afternoon.