By Mukudzei Chingwere
Zimbabwe’s representatives in the 2018-2019 CAF Champions League, FC Platinum, have chosen to be diplomatic about a rather tough Group B draw after drawing two former African champions in the same pool.
The Zimbabweans are in the same group with reigning African champions Esperance of Tunisia, South African Premiership heavyweights and former African champions Orlando Pirates as well as last season’s quarter-finalists Horoya AC of Guinea.
FC Platinum’s assistant coach Lizwe Sweswe said they are not worried to have drawn teams with well documented history of success but are rather excited as it will afford them a perfect environment to learn and develop.
“This is our first time at this level and we just want to enjoy the experience as well as gain valuable experience that will be useful in the future.
“These are very good teams that are in our group but we are not even worried, actually we are excited to have a chance of playing against the very best on the continent.
“Esperance are the reigning champions and teams like Orlando Pirates are the benchmarks for success in Africa and we are looking forward to take lessons from them.
“Although we are not going to make numbers, we will fight very hard in this group to make it to the quarter-finals and we will work extra hard to achieve that.
“But after this adventure I think we would learn a lot of things, us as coaches, players and the whole FC Platinum institution.
“To be able to host teams with great profile at Mandava is not only good for us but for all football stakeholders in the country, even you the media I think you can also benefit a lot from the adventure,” said Sweswe.
It will be a perfect homecoming for Warriors internationals such as Marshal Munetsi and Kudakwashe Mahachi who are expected to be part of the Orlando Pirates team that will come to Zimbabwe.
It is also not the first time for African champions Esperance to come to Zimbabwe. In 2003 they completed a 7-1 aggregate annihilation of Highlanders.
FC Platinum are participating in Africa’s premier club competition group stages for the first time in their history, having failed to go beyond the first round in two previous attempts.
But after dominant two seasons on the local front, the miners seems to be poised for Africa’s grand football stage starting with a home duel against Orlando Pirates at Mandava on January 12.
However, the miners’ technical department said in their maiden adventure they are looking to learn from those who have succeeded at the highest stage as they hope to be a force to reckon with on the continent in future.
FC Platinum chairman Evans Mutombeni also said his side were more than ready to play in the Champions League group stage.
“At this level of the game you would be expecting any opponent, all the teams that made it to the group stages are very good teams and there will be no easy opponent.
“Drawing Francophone teams there are some logistical challenges but all the same we will do our best to prepare the team for a good run in the African Safari.
“In terms of quality, teams from North Africa are far much ahead of us even if you look at the budgets of those teams and the teams from South Africa they’re way ahead of ours.
“When we agreed to take part in this competition we knew we have the budget to fund the team all the way,” said Mutombeni.
The game against Orlando Pirates will be perfect chance for FC Platinum stars to impress South African scouts and move pastures new to that country’s clubs.
Meanwhile, FC Platinum are holding their breath as they await the Confederation of African Football’s verdict on the eligibility of their fortress Mandava to host Champions League group stages matches.
Zimbabwe’s representatives in Africa’s premier club competition plays Esperance of Tunisia, Orlando Pirates of South Africa and Horoya AC of Guinea after qualifying to the mini league for the first time in their history.
The miners played the preliminary round and first round matches in Zvishavane following the homologation of their venue early this year and CAF are now expected to run the ruler over Mandava again before giving it a thumbs up to host the high profile fixtures.
Concerns have been raised over the small capacity of the VIP and media sections of the venue in Zvishavane which might prompt a venue shift if the miners do not put modalities in place to host the expected huge number of guests. ZIFA said they are awaiting confirmation on the eligibility of Mandava for the matches starting on the weekend of January 11-13, 2019.
“We are waiting for official communication from CAF regarding the eligibility of Mandava, for now there is no communication as yet but it will be in the public domain as soon as we are notified,” said the association’s spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela.
However, if Mandava fortress fails to meet the desired criteria it will be cruel to ask the miners to shift base to Harare or Bulawayo where they almost have zero support compared to South African clubs which have won several Zimbabwean hearts with their penchant to sign local stars.
FC Platinum’s opponents in the group stages, Orlando Pirates has been home and is still home to several Zimbabwean stars like Innocent Chikoya, Zvenyika Makonese, Edelbert Dinha, Charles Yohane and Takesure Chinyama.
In the current squad they have Warriors stars such as Kudakwashe Mahachi and Marshal Munetsi who are guaranteed of local support if they come to the country.
Despite the anticipated local backing for a team like Orlando Pirates, the South Africans, for example, will need few hours to the match venue from Johannesburg compared to FC Platinum from Zvishavane.
It will take the Zimbabwean champions just over two hours to travel to Bulawayo from Zvishavane while flying from Johannesburg will take the team just under an hour to land in Bulawayo.
Norman Mapeza’s men are at their imperial best at Mandava. In the just ended 2018 season they dropped 17 points away from home and only seven points at home on their way to the title and any talk of venue shift is likely to come as a nightmare to them.
“We have not received any information regarding the issue of changing our venue. I think ZIFA are better positioned to comment on that one,” said club chairman Evans Mutombeni.
“As far as we are concerned we are preparing to host Orlando Pirates at Mandava on the second weekend of January and we are running around to put everything in place,” said Mutombeni. The Herald