Amakhosi’s firm last line

Amakhosi’s three goalkeeping musketeers have been an almost impregnable last line of defence in this season’s CAF Champions League tournament, with Daniel Akpeyi, Itumeleng Khune and Bruce Bvuma keeping an incredible 11 clean sheets in 14 games.

Their collective form has been a huge factor in driving Kaizer Chiefs to the CAF Champions League final. And it’s a huge credit to them that all three will feel they have a chance of starting on Saturday night in the big one against Egypt’s Al Ahly.

Competition amongst the trio is fierce and fiery – as it always should be at the highest level – but the camaraderie and spirit binding them is even stronger and a joy to behold.

“We’ve worked very hard to get to where we are. Keeping 11 clean sheets in 14 games is a great record. I don’t know if any other team has kept so many clean sheets, using three goalkeepers, in the tournament. It’s something we will look back on in our careers and be very proud about. It shows there’s great competition amongst us and we know how important it is for the team,” says the young gun Bruce Bvuma, as all three keepers joined in conversation ahead of the final.

Bvuma has played three tumultuous games in the Champions League this season, making his tournament debut in the 4-0 quarter final thrashing of Tanzania’s Simba in the quarter finals, before helping the team hold on for dear life in a 3-0 loss to Simba away, which was just enough to ensure progression.

But it was in keeping a sensational clean sheet in the semi-final away to the powerful Wydad Casablanca in Chiefs’ famous 1-0 away win where Bvuma produced the performance of his young Amakhosi career.

“We knew how badly we wanted to beat Wydad. I was lucky I was at the right place at the right time to make the saves that I made and to play one of the best games in my career. It was a great experience, in just my second CAF game. Playing like that really meant a lot to me and for the team,” Bvuma says modestly of his Joseph ‘Banks’ Setlhodi-style heroics in Casablanca.

“As much as you want to keep those clean sheets, they’re good for us as individuals, the most important thing for us is to win. Itu and Daniel set the standard high, so I don’t have any choice but to perform when I am given the chance to play. Credit must go to them and to our entire goalkeeping department, and to coach Lee Baxter, for ensuring the standard of Kaizer Chiefs goalkeepers is always up there,” Bvuma added.

Nigerian Super Eagle, Akpeyi, has been flawless in the Champions League, and in the six games and 491 minutes he has played in the campaign, he is yet to concede a goal.

“It would be weird to say I’ve never thought about the record of clean sheets whatsoever. For me firstly, the main target is always to win a match when I take the field of play. If a clean sheet comes, fine, but I just know that it has helped us to be in a good position and that we are doing well. Credit must go to every player who has helped me keep six straight clean sheets. It hasn’t been an easy journey. I’ve been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, but credit must go to the entire team. There’s no way I would have been able to play against 11 opponents. So, every single player is doing his job, even if it is my job that is credited for not conceding,” says Akpeyi, who also saluted Baxter for ensuring Amakhosi keepers compete fiercely, “without having any grudges”.

It’s a message of unity echoed by Bafana Bafana legend, Khune, who has also kept three important clean sheets in the tournament, seeing out a crucial 1-0 home win against Wydad in the tournament’s group stages after Akpeyi was sent off.

“As a goalkeeping department, we always strive for perfection, even though nobody is perfect. We always push one another to reach our highest potential. We are doing that for this badge, which has been good to us and which we owe a lot. We always support one another. Whoever doesn’t play, supports the one that plays. Whoever plays, knows they have the support of those who are not playing. Whenever we are given a chance, we perform. We don’t pull long faces. We are all great goalkeepers, but we know that only one can play on the day,” says Khune.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s final, Akpeyi says there is a “beautiful atmosphere” in the Chiefs camp ahead of the game.

“Every single player knows what is obtainable and what the target is. Playing Al Ahly is not going to be easy. They have won this tournament many times, and it is the first time we are stepping into it. But that puts positive pressure on us. I do not see us losing focus and our preparation has been intensive. Everyone is fired up and ready to go to achieve the dreams of the team and the dreams of our supporters. We are ready to make history, we are ready to break history,” says Akpeyi.

“I believe this is a chance for us to write our names in the history books of the club and of South African football. It only takes 90 minutes and it will be 11 against 11. Our number one priority is to go out there and win this trophy for the club, for the supporters, the Chairman, and everyone who is part of the Kaizer Chiefs family. We are going to leave our blood and sweat on the field for this jersey,” says Khune.

Bvuma is equally positive, and excited, as destiny and history awaits.

“Al Ahly is one of the best teams in Africa. They have been dominating this competition and have won it 9 times. As much as we want it, they also want it. These are the games when you grow up you want to play in. We are looking forward to it, everyone is ready, we just want to get out there and play them now,” says Bvuma.