BULAWAYO - When South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns descended on Bulawayo last Friday afternoon there was a consensus among local football fans; there was little Chicken Inn could do to stop the Brazilians’ juggernaut.
Pitso Mosimane’s men had left a trail of destruction in the Super Diski where they had been unbeaten in their last 19 matches.
With Zimbabwean Khama Billiat, South African starlet Keagan Dolly and Leonardo Castro in irresistible form, the Brazilians were favourites to steamroll past the Gamecocks in the African Champions League preliminary round first leg clash.
The famed CBD combination was expected to terrorise the Chicken Inn defence judging by the form they had arrived in from the Super Diski.
The trio of Castro, Billiat and Dolly had scored 17 goals between them in the South African league where Sundowns currently sit at the top of the log standings nine points ahead of second-placed Bidvest Wits.
Mosimane also arrived in Bulawayo with some of his big hitters like Hlompo Kekana, Tebogo Langerman and the evergreen Teko Modise.
Even Chicken Inn coach Joey Antipas was fully aware of the large arsenal at the Tshwane-based side’s disposal hence his defensive tactics come kick-off at Barbourfields Stadium on Saturday.
Although they were playing at home, the Gamecocks began the match with a five-man midfield with only Mitchell Katsvairo playing upfront.
Antipas’ intentions were to absorb all the Abafana be Stayle’s early pressure and try to catch them on the break using the pace offered by Edmore Chirambadare, Obadiah Tarumbwa and George Majika.
The plan worked to perfection as the Zimbabwean champions surrendered all the possession to the South African side while picking the right moments to attack on the counter.
Chicken Inn were dangerous whenever they ventured forward and it was from such an attack they broke the deadlock nine minutes before the break.
Katsvairo got the better of Sundowns defender Wayne Arendse on the left flank before firing in a scorcher from an acute angel that gave Wayne Sandilands in goals for ‘Downs no chance.
The Gamecocks continued to play on the break for the remainder of the match as Sundowns searched for the elusive vital away goal.
There were to be no further goals in the game as Chicken Inn shut out the threat posed by the Brazilians.
Chicken Inn are now just 90 minutes away from knocking one of the richest teams in African football out of the Champions League at the first hurdle.
And Antipas believes his players can pull off another polished display in the second leg in Tshwane in two weeks’ time to dump out the cash-rich club out of Africa’s premier inter-club competition.
“We know what we are up against in the second leg, we know it will be fire,” said Antipas adding that it was very important that his charges did not concede an away goal which could have made their lives difficult in the reverse tie.
“It will be a difficult assignment but I believe if the boys put another good show like they did in that game especially being disciplined tactically you never know, we can pull a shocker.”
Sundowns coach Mosimane however, preferred to play his cards close to his chest saying he could not tell what will happen in the next encounter slated for the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium in Tshwane.
“If we can control the game here, I feel we can as well control it back home all we need is to take our chances,” he said.
“We played very well and we played on the break. 1-0 is not a bad result.”
Sundowns captain Thabo Nthethe also expressed confidence that the second leg will be a different game altogether.
“We are still in the game,” Nthethe said. “Coming here we knew that it was going to be tough and that’s what happened but don’t forget that they are coming to us and that will be the opportunity for us to overturn the defeat.
“They (Chicken Inn) had a home advantage, they were stronger than us so that’s what made them win the game.”