By Mehluli Sibanda in Bulawayo
FC Platinum held off Nyasa Big Bullets to make it to the CAF Champions League first round following a hard-fought triumph over the Malawians in a preliminary round, second leg tie at Barbourfields yesterday.
The Zimbabwe soccer kings played the greater part of the game using a 10-men squad following the expulsion of Cameroonian forward Albert Eonde.
For a lunge on Precious Sambani, Eonde was given a straight red card by Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe in the 26th minute. The Platinum striker was in tears as he walked off the field.
It was an action packed, see-saw battle in which FC Platinum faced elimination with the scores level at 2-2, until substitute Perfect Chikwende ensured the hosts made it to the next round with a header 10 minutes before the end of the game.
The other scorers for Pure Platinum Play were Devon Chafa and Never Tigere, with Chafa scoring from the penalty spot.
Peter Banda and Patrick Phiri were on target for the visitors. FC Platinum will now play against the winner between UD Songo of Mozambique and Simba Sports Club of Tanzania.
FC Platinum started off brightly when they were awarded a penalty in the fourth minute. Gift Mbweti was brought down in the box by Yamikani Fodoya and Sikazwe pointed to the spot.
Chafa then sent Ernest Kakhobwe the wrong way. With a one-man advantage, the visitors hit back in brilliant style with half an hour played. Banda’s stunning goal was struck from outside the box with what seemed like a cross from the right, only for the ball to sail over Wallace Magalane.
Eight minutes before the break, Tigere restored Platinum’s lead when he blasted in from close range. With Tigere having rattled the cross bar in the 64th minute, Nyasa Big Bullets refused to give in.
With the scores level at 2-2 in the 73rd minute, the impressive Phiri controlled the ball with his chest before firing past Magalane. Had it ended that way, FC Platinum would have been eliminated from the competition on the away goals rule.
However, with 12 minutes left, Mapeza removed Chafa and replaced him with Chikwende.
The move paid off.
Chikwende rose high to head in a Raphael Muduviwa cross from the right only two minutes after coming in.
But the Malawians were not giving up.
Substitute, former Orlando Pirates striker Chiukepo Msowoya’s effort came off the cross bar two minutes into the referee’s optional time. FC Platinum managed to withstand the barrage and walked away victorious.
A delighted Mapeza conceded that it had not been easy for his 10-men team. He believes that victory was achieved because his players stood firm as a group.
“It’s always difficult to play against 11 men. lt was difficult for me as a coach, it was difficult for the players but at the end of the day, we worked hard as a group and I am happy that we are going to the next round,” Mapeza said.
However, he bemoaned his team’s inconsistency, which he attributed to a loss of key players. Midfielder Kelvin Madzongwe was deployed in central defence, where he partnered skipper Gift Bello.
“We have lost players, it’s not going to be easy, we have been working on combinations. This week Madzongwe is playing as a centre back, next week he will be playing as a midfielder.
“We are struggling in terms of consistency, we lost the core of the team and it’s difficult, especially building another team during the season.”
Nyasa Big Bullets coach Kalisto Pasuwa felt that his boys were punished for making mistakes at the back, which he attributed to immaturity since most of his players are still young.
“It’s at this stage where we need maturity. The boys maybe were playing the ball in front of the goalkeeper and making mistakes. Therefore we were being punished.
“They are still young, they are still learning. At that stage, if you make a small mistake, you are punished,” Pasuwa said.
But the former Warriors and Dynamos coach was still proud with his boys’ performance.
Pasuwa’s project of young players has also won Mapeza’s admiration. The Sunday Mail