Kaizer Chiefs’ journey to the Caf Champions League final is one of those incredible stories that this game conjures up from time to time, a tale that defies logic, where success somehow seems written in the stars, and could well end with a star woven into the Amakhosi jersey for the first time as champions of the continent.
At almost every stage of this competition, it seemed that we had arrived at a moment where Kaizer Chiefs’ progress was about to be halted, especially as their domestic form in the 2020/21 campaign was an unadulterated shambles.
There was the final qualifying round for the group stages against Angola’s Primeiro De Agosto, where Chiefs could only manage a 0-0 draw at home. Travelling to Luanda, the odds were stacked against Amakhosi, but they pulled off a 1-0 win to scrape into the final eight.
In the group stages, Chiefs won just one of their first four group games, and that was at home to the group’s weakest team, Petro de Luanda. Even after an immensely courageous 1-o win at home to Wydad Casablanca, it seemed against all odds that they would be able to get anything out of their final group game against Horoya in Guinea.
Amakhosi’s domestic woes were endless, dumped out of the Nedbank Cup by Richards Bay, even if there was brief respite provided by a Soweto derby win over Orlando Pirates. In Conakry, however, Amakhosi, despite training twice, pulled off a 2-2 draw to inch into the quarterfinals.
Khama Billiat hasn’t done much all season in a black and gold shirt, but when he was needed here he found a late equaliser.
Still, no one much fancied Kaizer Chiefs as they slumped further down the DStv Premiership table, when they took on Simba SC in the quarterfinals, a side that had topped a group containing Egyptian giants Al Ahly.
When it was needed, however, Kaizer Chiefs finally found a home performance for the ages, hammering Simba 4-0 at FNB Stadium, which even meant a rather desperate 3-0 defeat in the second leg didn’t matter.
But then Chiefs were up against Wydad again in the semifinals, and that, surely was that. Gavin Hunt had been sacked with two games to go in the league season, with Kaizer Chiefs still in with an outside chance of finishing in the relegation play-off spot. Interim coaches Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard won their last two Premiership games, and Kaizer Chiefs even scraped into next season’s MTN8, while Stuart Baxter returned as head coach, adding to the feel-good factor around Naturena.
But still, this was Wydad, a team that had pummelled Kaizer Chiefs 4-0 at home in the group stages, and that was on neutral territory in Ouagadougou. Back in Casablanca, surely Chiefs didn’t stand a chance? Wrong again! Chiefs put up a lion-hearted defensive display and completed a smash-and-grab when Samir Nurkovic’s goal was upheld, thankfully, by VAR.
Wydad were not done, and came to Johannesburg to throw the kitchen sink at Kaizer Chiefs, but Chiefs held firm, taking their place in the July 17 final against Pitso Mosimane’s Al Ahly.
Ahly, the Caf Champions League holders, who already sent Mamelodi Sundowns packing in the quarterfinals, and Esperance walking in the semis, who have won this competition more times than anyone else, will be heavy favourites to beat Kaizer Chiefs in the final.
And yet, sometimes it just seems a team’s name is written on the trophy. In all this, we haven’t even mentioned that Kaizer Chiefs have been serving a transfer ban all season – they only had five fit players on the bench in Casablanca, including reserve goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
Is it destiny for Kaizer Chiefs to complete the dream against Ahly? Don’t bet against it.