Kenya’s Zesco trio continue CAF Cup journey
Zesco United emerged as an African club force last season and believe they can become the first Zambian winners of the CAF Confederation Cup this year.
John Ching’andu, a 23-year-old goal poacher, bagged a brace as Zesco reached the mini-league phase by outplaying Enugu Rangers of Nigeria 3-0 at home.
Kenyan international Jesse Were was the other scorer, curling a beautiful bender in the 74th minute to put the game beyond the Nigeria Professional Football League champions.
On Saturday, Were will lead Zesco and two of his compatriots – Anthony Akumu, David ‘Calabar’ Owino – when they host Smouha SC who tormentors of Kenyan Premier League (KPL) side Ulinzi Stars in the preliminary stage.
“If we believe in each other we can lift the trophy,” Ching’andu told AFP ahead of their opening Group C game against their Egyptian opponents.
United had demonstrated an encouraging never-say-die spirit in the first leg, recovering from two goals behind to force a 2-2 draw.
The convincing overall triumph against Enugu came after Ndola-based Zesco stunned Africa last year by reaching the CAF Champions League semi-finals.
Serb coach Zlatko Krmpotic shares the optimism of Ching’andu while believing Smouha will pose a greater threat than Recreativo Libolo of Angola or Al Hilal Obeid of Sudan.
“Smouha are a good team who I know from my days as assistant coach of TP Mazembe in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We beat them 2-0 away and 1-0 at home in the CAF Champions League, but they were no pushovers and deserve respect.”
While Zesco were eliminating Enugu with greater ease than anticipated, Smouha edged South African Premiership leaders Wits in a one-goal tie settled by a penalty.
Zesco are among four seeded clubs with title-holders Mazembe and former Confederation Cup winners FUS Rabat of Morocco and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia.
All launch their six-matchday group campaigns with home fixtures and should make winning starts in pursuit of top-two finishes and quarter-finals places.
FUS host Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), the first Ugandan club to qualify for the group stage of a CAF competition.
KCCA came close to shocking title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa in the Champions League before being demoted to the Confederation Cup.
Mazembe, the second most successful club in CAF competitions with 10 titles, tackle CF Mounana of Gabon in a clash between two other Champions League drop-outs.
Mbabane Swallows, the first Swaziland club to make a CAF group stage, have a challenging start away to record three-time Confederation Cup winners Sfaxien.
The Tunisians scored seven unanswered goals in two previous home victories and Karim Aouadhi and Senegalese Mohamed Ndoye score consistently.
Like the CAF Champions League, the Confederation Cup group phase has been expanded this year for eight clubs to 16 and the prize money increased.
Zesco United were previous Champions of the Zambia Premier League in 2015, finishing second in 2016 just below Champions, Zanaco.