Teenager Katlego Khunou banged home a sumptuous first senior goal for Platinum Stars but a 1-1 home draw with Mouloudia Alger at the start of their group campaign in the African Confederation Cup must be considered a disappointing return for the South African outfit.
The 19-year-old Khonou has only played once before for Stars in the earlier rounds of the competition and is yet to make his Premier Soccer League debut. But his cracking effort in the 43rd minute at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace on Sunday heightened his credentials as Stars came from a goal down to share the spoils with their north African opponents.
With ambitions still of a top eight finish in the league, and an eye on the game against Kaizer Chiefs at home on Wednesday, Stars coach Cavin Johnson rested almost all his regulars and handed opportunity to some of the talent that the club have been nurturing over the last season.
Almost immediately it looked a decision that Stars, if they have any real ambition of going further in this competition might come to regret, as Mouloudia were 1-0 up after just seven minutes.
A standard corner was poorly defended by Stars who, in spite of three players in position, failed to stop Brahim Boudebouda heading home past Steven Hoffman.
But that was all that the physically imposing Algerians had to offer in the first half as Stars’ youthful charges began in grow in confidence.
Robert Ngambi, one of only four regulars asked to start, did not have enough power after a clever one-two with Benson Shilongo, who then had a chance of his own by skyed wildly with a shot from a tight angle that showed a lack of decision making.
The 18-year-old Neo Links them made a strong run on goal but also had a rush of blood to the head and shot well wide.
But he should have been awarded a penalty in the 38th minute when he hacked down on the penalty area line. Instead, the Kenyan referee Peter Waweru gave a free kick which Links hit into the wall and Solomon Mathe failed to react quickest to when the rebound fell invitingly for him.
Khunou’s equaliser just before the break suggested Stars youthful line-up could go on and beat the Algerians, who are second in their own league championship but far from an impressive looking team.
But instead Stars began to run out of steam and the Algerians took command.
Hoffman made two key saves, one at point blank range from Abdelghani Demmou as the visitors continued to look dangerous at set pieces.
Mouloudia also had a legitimate penalty appeal after a clumsy challenge from Thuto Mphahlele but again the Kenyan referee appeared to be scared to make the call.
In the last minute Stars’ substitute Bongi Ntuli might have won the game but his close range header went wide. He got booked straight after and now misses Stars’ next game in Group B in Swaziland on May 24.