Wits set up Champions League date against CAF club of the century Al-Ahly

Eleazar Rodgers of Wits aganist Fraleic of AS St Louisenne during the CAF Champions League qualifying match between Bidvest Wits and Saint-Louisienne at Bidvest Stadium on February 18, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images
Eleazar Rodgers of Wits aganist Fraleic of AS St Louisenne during the CAF Champions League qualifying match between Bidvest Wits and Saint-Louisienne at Bidvest Stadium on February 18, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

CAF club of the century Al-Ahly stand between Bidvest Wits and a coveted group stage spot after The Clever Boys made heavy weather of the expected win against their visitors from Reunion. They nearly threw it away through shambolic finishing but they had just enough class and composure to qualify for the next round of the CAF Champions League.

Had Wits converted more than Daine Klate's 27th minute set-piece in the first stanza, they would have sealed the tie. They seem to make things difficult for themselves when it's least expected of them.

Their grieving opponents, who lost a senior club official yesterday morning, tried their best to be a disruptive influence while trying to play something that remotely resembled football.

They flew into tackles with reckless abandon and adopted the tricks often seen from North African teams when they try to slow down the game.

An experienced Wits side with seven changes from the mechanically efficient unit that dismantled the hapless Orlando Pirates on Wednesday evening matched, if not bettered their antics. However, Wits did show the urgency of a team that wanted to win the tie and the opportunities they created illustrated that.

Siboniso Gaxa's 11th minute header from a S'Fiso Myeni cross cannoned off the crossbar while Klate and Ben Motshwari wasted two consecutive golden chances on the stroke of half-time when Saint-Louisienne goalkeeper Frederic Seng foiled them.

He was powerless to prevent Wits from scoring a second through Sifiso Myeni's 47th minute grasscutter from outside the box but did well to stop the roving substitute Cuthbert Malajila dead in his tracks in the 71st and 76th minutes.

That goal stung them into action and their pace tested the back four of Gaxa, Bongani Khumalo, Thulani Hlatshwayo and Hlanti.

They were caught short when the visitor hauled themselves back into the tie through Sylvian Phileas's goal in the 79th minute.

The importance of the goal was not lost on the bench, which mobbed him in the corner but the hosts only had themselves to blame.

They were lax with the ball in the midfield and Khumalo's lack of pace and mobility was ruthlessly exposed in the build-up to the goal while Xola Mlambo was too slow in terms of tracking back.

Malajila's 86th minute finish from a goalmouth scramble eased the palpable tensions in the matchbox venue but the substandard finish is of grave concern for Gavin Hunt.

Hunt gambled by resting James Keene and Phakamani Mahlambi but this is something they can ill-afford to do if they harbour any ambitions getting past the Egyptian giants before they even think about the group stages,

The latter was not even in the match-day squad but the lack of pace on the right to complement Klate's guile on the left means he will have to be pressed into service for the tie against the team of the century.

Gabadinho Mhango had an aimless game while Eleazar Rodgers just made up the numbers from an aerial battle perspective.

Hunt may need to start thinking about using his first-choice defenders because the likes of Khumalo and Gaxa just do not have the pace to survive at this level. Leaving the defensive duties on Hlatshwayo's broad shoulders is unfair but a lesson was learnt. Whether they apply it when they go to Cairo on the weekend of March 10-12 is another story.

  - TMG Digital

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