SA teams ready for desert war

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South Africa’s other participant in the continental competition, Mamelodi Sundowns jetted out of Johannesburg last night for their date against Haras el-Hodoud in Cairo at the weekend.

The Tycoons travelled for 22 hours to reach their destination and arrived in the city of Sfax with the desert sun at a searing 42 degrees C.

Stars coach Miguel Gamondi has vast experience in playing in Africa and knows how energy-sapping the North African desert sun can be.

Fortunately, both South African Premiership sides will be playing in the evening and long-range forecasts for the weekend are a maximum of 33-34 in both Sfax and Cairo.

Gamondi will begin training today in the cool late afternoon as he wants to give the squad time to recover.

Both Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns have failed to beat CS Sfaxien in previous CAF competitions and Gamondi faces an uphill battle to get past the stubborn champions who will be playing in front of their partisan crowds.

The Argentinian mentor does not have a full strength squad with Steve Lekoelea nursing a knee injury.

Also missing from the Tycoons line up will be the likes of Luis Renteria and Godfrey Sapula.

Sundowns, too, have injury worries. Captain Michael Manzini and fellow defender Luvhengo Mungomeni are doubtful and a decision will be taken after today’s afternoon training session in Egypt.

“We are hoping they will pass the late fitness test. Fortunately, Lerato Chabangu has been passed fit and he will be available for the game, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that Manzini and Mungomeni are eligible to play,” said coach Trott Moloto before the team’s departure from Chloorkop.

Calvin Marlin and Fanyana Dhladhla were left behind because of injury and suspension respectively, while Dillon Sheppard is not registered due to the injury that he sustained last season.

All 11 new players signed by the Brazilians are not eligible to play at this stage, but the club has a right to sign five more players in the next round.

“We will definitely exercise our right to register five players in the group stages to boost our team,” said Moloto.

In other Confederations Cup action this weekend, two-time African champions, Ghana’s Kumasi Asante Kotoko host Libyan champions Al-Ittihad with their minds on victory to seal their second appearance at the mini-league stage of the competition.

Kotoko, a participant amongst the last eight during the maiden edition of the competition in 2004, must overturn a 1-2 loss from the first leg to be assured of place in the hunt for the title this season.

The ‘Porcupine Warriors’ crowned Ghana’s league champions for a record 21-times last Sunday face an Al-Ittihad side, notable with inconsistent away performances this term.

Both clubs have red and white as their official colours and certainly the atmosphere at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city will be all red and tension packed.

Hosts, Kotoko will be without their inspirational captain Emmanuel Osei Kuffour due to suspension and stand in coach Johnson Smith remains optimistic about his side’s progress.

“We will open up and go all out for victory,” Smith said. Smith added that he has a fair idea of the Tripoli-based team, dominated by members of Libyan national team that played against the Ghana's Black Stars last June in a 2010 World Cup/African Cup of Nations qualifier and will make the best of it.

At the El-Menzah Stadium in Tunis, Esperance will face Etoile du Sahel in the final of a trilogy of matches between them in three weeks.

Esperance went down 0-2 from the first leg, and will be hoping to pip Etoile again to secure a last eight berth after the Tunisian FA Cup title three weeks ago.

Tunisia's fourth representative, Club Africain treks Bamako as guests of Malian giants, Djoliba Athletic.

Former African champions, J.S. Kabylie of Algeria face a dicey tie in Douala against local side Astres, who are bent of making a second successive appearance at the mini-league stage.

The first leg ended one all but Alexander Moldovan, head coach of the Algerian champions remains unperturbed about his team's chances.

Angola's sole representative, Interclube will play as guests of Mount Cameroon while last year's losing finalists, El-Merrikh look set to brush aside Olympique Club de Khourigba for a a place in the next phase after managing a two-all draw in Morocco a fortnight ago.

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