Group stage games in CAF Champions League show what is lacking here

16Jan 2020
Michael Eneza
The Guardian
Group stage games in CAF Champions League show what is lacking here

EXPOSURE to what football or music looks like in other countries is essential for local clubs or for that matter musical groups to fine tune their art to sharper performance, but learning is not an easy task in life.

Guinea’s AC Horoya players pictured after they had featured in a recent 2019/2020 CAF Champions League game in Conakry. The squad leads the competition’s Group B and are on course for cruising to the last four.

Once an individual, or group of performers, attain fame in what they are doing, making an all out effort to learn to attain higher standards more or less disappears, as there is little motivation for it. This way each sporting environment or musical space has its standards.

At the weekend local soccer viewers had ample time to sample the Guinean outfit Horoya AC who remained on course to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Total CAF Confederation Cup 2019/20 after picking a 0-0 draw away to Malian side Djoliba. It was at the Stade 26 Mars in Bamako on Sunday where the well drilled side remained top of Group B. The show that was availed to viewers showed that even where our clubs have inched to higher stages of CAF championships that could easily be attributed to luck, for we rarely ever field such outfits.

What was interesting in looking at the match was that it was even then a second tier competition from the CAF Champions League itself, but as it is often the case the difference wasn’t quite noticeable. Often the first and second top sides in a country’s premier league don’t differ much in abilities, and more significantly, the match was testimony to what it means to be a second tier competitor from say Guinea or Mali, where the teams were drawn from. It is with performances of the sort that our top club sides suffer with nauseating regularity scores like 5-0 in away ties.

What was happening in the group matches as a whole, for instance how the draw takes Djoliba to eight points from four matches, leading the group and Horoya having to win one of their two remaining games to assure a place for themselves in the knockout stage illustrates the difference. It means that there was nothing unusual about either side as neither outfit has been winning all its ties, Nor was the match itself exceptional say at the semifinal stage to be of such a high standard.

Still it was noticed that the Guinean giants kept their run of clean sheets in the group stages, going for the fourth game without conceding a goal as the back line successfully mounted a complete shut-out against the Malian outfit. Equally noticeable was that a veteran of Premier League soccer here, Horoya’s Congolese forward Heritier Makambo was reportedly exciting in the opening quarter hour of the game. He was working his way to good positions down on the left but the cutting edge to get a goal was lacking. It means he is likely to be their best player there.

The report dwelt at some length on the player’s exploits, as in the fourth minute, he ‘did well to skip away from his markers before cutting back an inviting cross, but there was no one in the box to finish off. Two minutes later, he went on the same run but this time had a go at goal himself. However, his low shot missed the target by a whisker.’ That he earlier played for city giants Young Africans SC implies that we also field good players but lack a system of building outfits.

The opening minutes weren’t enough for the Congolese ace, as he was at it again in the ninth minute, finding some space on the left before floating in a decent cross, but a team mate’s header was over. The other side was also covered for its exploits, though the report says they had to struggle a bit in view of Horoya’s grip on the game and especially their padlock defense, but for that aspect both defenses played their part. Were it a game of boxing Horoya would have won on ‘points’ but in soccer a goal has to be scored, remain without being leveled, for ‘points’ to rise.

Pundits at the local level affirm that it isn’t just Makambo, who has played here, who featured in one of the two sides, and note can also be taken of others who have been signed by leading North African clubs, or earlier TP Mazembe, which has the same class of soccer. Going by scattered data on player recruitment and the level of soccer they play in other teams, it implies that the players we have can be primed or tuned to play that same level of soccer, but some resistance exists at certain points. Players don’t wish for tactics that are costly in terms of energy and coaches wish to befriend players so even if they have better standards, they stoop to their level.