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SWALLOWS NEWS
Bleak Weekend For SA Clubs 15/04/03
After all three of South Africas representatives in African club competitions came a cropper in their first round first leg encounters, there is definitely something to be said for performances in the continents club competitions.

Champions League representatives Santos were held to a goalless draw at home by Simba; Sundowns were ambushed 2-0 in the CAF Cup by Primeiro in Angola; Cosmos lost 1-0 in Mozambican to Costa Del Sol in the Cup Winners Cup.

While the national soccer side has acquitted itself admirably since readmission, it is fair to say that South African clubs have not exactly burst onto the scene to tumultuous acclaim.

They have been pretty anonymous and have taken longer than expected to come to grips with the demands of the competitions, while a winning formula continues to elude them.

On match days, especially away from home, they almost always struggle, and without fail not so much dip below their usual local standards as plummet to a level of mediocrity that continues to baffle many a soccer pundit.

Indeed, so far participation in Africa comes across as half-hearted, often blighted by poor preparation, uncertainties, threats of withdrawal at the eleventh hour, while for some clubs forays into Africa represent an unwanted distraction, an added burden.

It is easy to impugn the commitment of the countrys representatives, who appear content to just go through the motions and get the fixtures out of the way.

And while it is almost a frenzied atmosphere at the stadiums when the continents powerhouses meet, say in Cairo, or elsewhere in North or West Africa, it is painfully clear that the same euphoria of these CAF club competitions has not filtered down south.

Even after Santos offered sections of the population free entrance to their match against Simba at Athlone Stadium on Sunday, the tie was witnessed by a paltry crowd hence no worthwhile financial recompense in the way of gate takings for the local champions.

For the continents most established clubs the Champions League is, as it should be, the holy grail. Yet, South African fans dont seem to think much of it, and most certainly they are not nearly as peeved when their team crashes out of Africa at the first hurdle, as they would be if their favourite side lost a league match.

In a league where the life expectancy of a coach is notoriously short, it is surprising that no mentor has been fired for failing to make some meaningful headway in Africa, creating an impression that success on that front is not considered a priority, merely a bonus, if it is achieved.

The problem afflicting these competitions is that there is very little incentive for taking part except prestige.

With the exception of the money-spinning Champions League, the other two competitions carry no financial rewards of note, putting further financial strain on clubs already panting under severe budgetary constraints.

But even so, a casual assessment of the history of South African clubs forays into the continent reveals that there is a case to be made for opportunities missed and squandered.

Pirates won the elite Champions League competition in 1995; Sundowns reached the finals of the same competition in 2002; Kaizer Chiefs won the competitions poorer cousin, the Mandela Cup, two seasons ago.

It is fair to say that there has been no advancement of note in the intervening period and certainly no signs to suggest that South African clubs are ready to conquer Africa in the way the likes of Zamalek, Raja, Esperance, Al Ahly, have all become synonymous with these competitions.

While to attempt an explanation of the failures of the South African clubs  is to give one a licence to make gratuitous remarks, there are, however, certain questions that suggest themselves.

On several occasions South African clubs have come unstuck against sides considered minnows. Clearly they have not learned how to win in Africa.

How well do South African teams study their opponents?

Are unhelpful assumptions being made about the quality of opposition and threat posed by certain teams, for example, those from countries in the grip of economic ruin and ravaged by political strife?

Are South African teams simply not good enough?

The sum total of this assessment, therefore, is that below par performances in Africa are a damning indictment of the quality of the local league.

Perhaps the South African league is not as competitive as we would like to believe it is. What inferences are to be drawn about the PSL when our clubs become regular cannon fodder for the continents elite teams and minnows alike?

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