By Eddie Chikamhi
Zimbabwe football kings FC Platinum will need to dig deeper into their energy and tactical reserves when they host perennial campaigners from Tanzania, Simba SC, in the first leg of the CAF Champions League first round at the National Sports Stadium.
The match will be broadcast live on ZBC Television.
The Zimbabwean representatives would need to take advantage of home conditions to boost their chances to make a third successive group stage appearance in the continental competition.
The platinum miners are 180 minutes to realise this dream, with the return leg set for January 6 in Tanzania. Home advantage matters most in African football.
But before the ball is even kicked, the Zimbabweans already appear to be disadvantaged in this two-legged tie, which makes it crucial to win at home.
Despite outclassing Mozambican opponents Costa do Sol 4-1 in the preliminary round, the platinum miners face their first real test from Simba SC.
And if they manage to go past the hurdle in this two-legged encounter, then they deserve their place in the last 16.
Simba SC are more primed for the competition since they have been playing competitive football in their country of late, unlike the Zimbabweans whose league failed to kick-off after the coronavirus lockdown.
To their credit, FC Platinum have not played a competitive match since February 2020 but they still had it in them to beat Costa do Sol of Mozambique, home and away in the preliminary round.
Simba SC, who are currently in the middle of their league campaign, won their 21st league title earlier this year after the authorities in Tanzania decided to complete the season despite the advent of the coronavirus.
After a brief stoppage, Tanzania were the first African country to resume football back in June. The Tanzanians even have the luxury of playing their domestic league in packed stadia.
Unlike the first leg, which will be played out behind closed doors at the National Sports Stadium, the fan factor is likely to be key in this first round contest as Simba SC are likely to allow in supporters.
The side was granted permission by CAF to fill up to 50 percent of the stadium capacity with fans in the preliminary round after the Tanzania Football Federation wrote to CAF requesting the privilege.
This means the platinum miners are likely to play in front of hostile home fans when they travel to Tanzania next month.
Norman Mapeza’s FC Platinum have been in the trenches for some time now and it appears they now understand the African terrain. But the bottom line, Simba SC, have many advantages and they are no small boys in this tournament.
Simba, who are coached by Belgian Sven Vandenbroeck, revel in the recent success in the Champions League after reaching the tournament’s quarter-finals during the 2018-2019 edition.
The Tanzanians say they are aiming for a good result in Harare tomorrow. They arrived in the country on Friday and had at least four days to familiarise with the local conditions. Their goalkeeper Aishi Manula told the Tanzanian media that he is confident they will get a good result in Harare.
“We have agreed as players to do well in the CAF competition and we know our chance to perform is now,” said Manula.
“We are confident in ourselves that we have what it takes to go out there and come home with a good result, we want to put ourselves in a good advantage to qualify and we know what we have to do when we step on to the pitch on Wednesday.
“We are in a very good round of the competition and all we need is to win to make it to the group stages, we want to go far in the competition and we will make sure we don’t disappoint our fans back home.”
Simba SC left for Zimbabwe on Friday with a contingent of 24 players but midfielder Bernard Morrison, who was signed from rivals Young Africans (Yanga SC), was conspicuously missing.
Simba team manager, Abbas Ali, however, explained the player was left behind because he is suffering from malaria.
“We don’t have Bernard (Morrison) in the squad because he is down with malaria,” Abbas told reporters before the team embarked on their journey to Zimbabwe.
“Right back David Kameta, will also not travel due to his assignment in the national Under-20 team (Ngorongoro Heroes).”
In the travelling squad, coach Vandenbroeck named new signing Taddeo Lwanga alongside striker Meddie Kagere, John Bocco, and midfielder Clatous Chama.
It was Chama who scored the away goal against Plateau United in the first round battle played away in Abuja, Nigeria and Simba managed to hold them to a 0-0 draw in Dar es Salaam to advance on a 1-0 aggregate scoreline.
The Tanzanian champions have a fairly deep squad, with a whopping 10 foreign players.
The players that Sven Vandenbroeck will pick to start will be determined by his approach more than anything else.
Goalkeeper: Aishi Manula, Ally Salim, Beno Kakolanya.
Defenders: Shomari Kapombe, Gadiel Michael, Mohamed Hussein, Erasto Nyoni, Ibrahim Ame, Joash Onyango, and Pascal Wawa.
Midfielders: Jonas Mkude, Mzamiru Yassin, Said Ndemla, Taddeo Lwanga, Larry Bwalya, Hassan Dilunga, Francis Kahata, and Clatous Chama.
Strikers: Meddie Kagere, John Bocco, Chris Mugalu, Miraji Athumani, Luis Miquissone, and Ibrahim Ajibu. The Herald