17 April 2015 12:53
Swaziland police football team Royal Leopard were considered cannon fodder when the 2015 CAF Confederation Cup kicked off.
But shock victories over South Africans Wits and Angolans Petro Atletico in the second-tier African club competition have placed them on the brink of creating history.
If Leopard can overcome more experienced and successful V Club from the Democratic Republic of Congo in a last-16 tie, they will become the first Swazi qualifiers for the Confederation Cup play-offs.
The police outfit host the first leg Saturday and only they have come close before, reaching the round-of-16 three years ago before losing at home and away against Tunisians Club Africain.
It is difficult to imagine any outcome other than overall success for 2014 CAF Champions League runners-up V Club.
The Kinshasa side boast national stars like striker Firmin Mubele, and coach Florent Ibenge guided DR Congo to third place at the Africa Cup of Nations two months ago.
Mubele has already demonstrated his predatory instincts in the competition this season, scoring two of the three goals that eliminated Mozambicans Ferroviario Beira.
And Ibenge has juggled club and national-team duties so successfully that V Club are among the favourites to lift the Confederation Cup trophy.
But if Mubele is a popular figure in the crowded streets of Kinshasa, Swazis have their own hero in Mthunzi Mkhonto.
It was his goal that earned Leopard a 1-0 triumph over Petro in Luanda and secured progress that seemed improbable after a first-leg draw.
V Club are one of seven former African champions among the 16 survivors and Egyptians Zamalek hope to continue where they left off in the previous round.
A 3-1 home win over Rwandans Rayon Sports was followed by a 3-0 away victory with Ahmed Eid scoring three of the six goals, but visiting Moroccans FUS Rabat are likely to offer stiffer resistance.
Nine-title Zamalek are the second most successful CAF club and Tunisians Etoile Sahel lie third with just one trophy less.
Etoile, solid rather than spectacular when disposing of Angolans Benfica Luanda, are away to goal-hungry Tanzanians Young Africans.
The Dar es Salaam outfit hit Zimbabwean visitors Platinum for five in the round-of-32 and Mrisho Ngasa and Burundian Hamis Tambwe are consistent goal-grabbers. Club Africain play for the first time in the competition this season when they face Algerians ASO Chlef away.
Given a preliminary-round bye, Africain then received a walkover when Nigerians Dolphins arrived late for a Tunis fixture.
South Africans Orlando Pirates meet Mounana in Gabon, Ghanaians Hearts of Oak play Djoliba in Mali, and Nigerians Warri Wolves host DR Congo outfit MK Etancheite.
Ivorians ASEC Mimosas, crowned African champions 16 years ago, are away to Malians Onze Createurs in a West African derby.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) News
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