By Eddie Chikamhi
Zimbabwe football kings FC Platinum will not break for the Christmas holiday as they prepare for next year’s Champions League adventure, where they will face perennial campaigners Clube Desportivo Primeiro de Agosto of Angola in the preliminary round.
The platinum miners yesterday welcomed the draw against the 11-time Angolan champions with a mixture of excitement and caution and indicated that they will not leave anything to chance in their quest to hoist the country’s flag in the African safari.
Norman Mapeza’s men managed to evade any of the traditional giants from North and West Africa as four heavyweights – TP Mazembe, Wydad Casablanca, Al Ahly, ES Sahel and Mamelodi Sundowns – were given byes in the draw conducted at the CAF headquarters in Egypt yesterday.
The club’s spokesperson, Chido Chizondo, said the Zvishavane side, who have set themselves a group stage target, understand that they need to dig deeper to deal with the preliminary round hurdle, with South African champions Bidvest Wits a possible opponent in the first round.
Bidvest Wits have been handed a seemingly easy draw against Pamplemousses of Mauritius, the Indian Ocean side that was beaten by Ngezi Platinum Stars in the preliminary round of the second tier Confederation Cup early this year.
But Chizondo said the focus now is on their preliminary round opponents. Angolan teams have always been tricky for Zimbabwe, with giants Dynamos falling prey to Interclube in the 2012 Confederation Cup, while Ngezi Platinum were victims to Recreativo Libolo in the same competition earlier this year.
“Honestly, we don’t know much of this team except from what we read. We gather that they are one of the giants in Angola and are very competitive. “We also understand that their league is very competitive and also that their players are quite big. It sounds intimidating, but on our part, I believe we are quite equal to the challenge,” said Chizondo.
FC Platinum will begin their campaign away in Angola on the weekend of February 11-13, with the return matches coming the following week.
The winners will proceed to the first round exactly a month later. Primeiro de Agosto, founded in 1977, nearly 20 years before the Pure Platinum Play came into existence, have featured in the Champions League eight times and the old African Cup of Champions Clubs five times.
They also boast considerable experience with the second tier Confederation Cup. The club, which is sponsored by the Angolan army, have won the last two domestic championships in 2016 and 2017. But FC Platinum are not intimidated.
FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza has already put shoulders to the wheel in preparation for the tournament. Chizondo revealed the coach has a comprehensive plan which runs through the festive holidays.
The platinum miners are currently seized with reinforcing their squad to meet the rigours of African football by spreading their nets to recruit beyond the borders.
Currently, they are having Cameroonian Albert Endoa and Ghanaian Ibrahim Dauda on trials and they are also looking at players from neighbouring Zambia.
“We have already started planning and I am sure we are going to work very hard to reach the group stage. That is our target. So people will be working throughout the festive season. Unfortunately there could be no break for Christmas,” said Chizondo.
The platinum miners are not new to the tournament, having made their debut in the Champions League in 2012, just a year after they had won promotion into the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League and distinguishing themselves by finishing close runners-up to Dynamos.
However, their maiden Africa campaign was largely unsuccessful due to the apparent lack of experience as they were knocked out in the first round by Sudanese perennial contestants Al-Merreikh on a 5-2 aggregate scoreline.
FC Platinum will be Zimbabwe’s sole representatives in Africa next year, after Chibuku Super Cup winners Harare City pulled out.
The Sunshine Boys, under fire from patron and Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni, decided against embarking on the Confederation Cup tournament after they were relegated from the Premiership.The Herald