ZIMBABWE football champions, CAPS United, are just 90 minutes away from achieving their best-ever CAF Champions’ League performance in the history of the club, by making it into the lucrative group stages of the competition.
BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
The 90 minutes will be against the competition’s joint second most successful club with five titles — the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Tout Puissant Mazembe — at the National Sports Stadium this afternoon.
No CAPS United side has qualified into the group stages, with previous efforts in 1997, 2005 and 2006 ending in the second round.
In 2006, CAPS United, who had won two league championships in a row, were unfortunately disqualified from the competition for using two improperly registered players — Malawian imports George Martin and Gift Makoloni — in the first round of the competition.
And having charmed the continent last week with a gallant one-all draw against their much-fancied opponents away in Lubumbashi, Makepekepe are confident of finishing off the “Congolese job” today, which will see them earning a cool $550 000 for making it into the group stages.
Nevertheless, the hosts remain the underdogs in this fixture based on the experience between the two teams in African football.
If the Green Machine qualify for the group stages, coach Lloyd Chitembwe’s name will be etched in the club’s football folklore as the finest gaffer to have led the team.
It explains why he seemed a man under immense pressure at the team’s press conference earlier in the week.
The question about pressure seemed to annoy him so much.
“It’s always pressure, pressure, pressure. Aah! You know, sometimes I don’t want to respond to that. In football, it’s not important. What is important is preparation and how we play on Sunday [today],” he retorted.
Of course, he is under pressure to come up with the correct strategy to finish off the Congolese giants after managing a positive result away from home last Sunday. And do so without one of his standout performers, newcomer Ronald Chitiyo, who is suspended for accumulating two yellow cards in the last two matches.
“It’s a distraction [to talk about Chitiyo]. I don’t want to talk about a player who is not participating and contributing. The focus should be on the team and not one single player,” he snapped at the question that enquired on the impact of the blow of losing Chitiyo.
While he was adamant that they would play the same way they did in Lubumbashi, the absence of Chitiyo surely demands a change in tactics.
And CAPS United gave the strongest hint that they would be going all out for a win after releasing what appears to be an attacking 18-man squad on their official website yesterday.
The absence of the former Dynamos and Harare City midfielder means that Chitembwe is likely to give Tafadzwa Rusike the nod to operate in attacking midfield ahead of Joel Ngodzo.
Although Chitembwe will be happy to have wingback Ronald Pfumbidzayi back in the team after the player missed the trip to the DRC last Sunday, he is expected to keep faith in Valentine Musarurwa after he put in a good shift in Lubumbashi.
TP Mazembe coach Thierry Froger arrived in the country with his troops on Friday evening and his message was short and clear.
“The match will be difficult, but we are here to qualify,” he said.
Seychelles referee Bernard Camille will handle today’s match.
He will be assisted by fellow countrymen Barra Allaister and Petrousse Danny, with Pool Gerad coming in as the fourth official.
CAPS United CAF Champions League Record
1997 – Second Round
2005 – Second Round
2006 – (disqualified in the second round)
Probable Line-up: Edmore Sibanda, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Valentine Musarurwa, Justice Jangano, Dennis Dauda, Devon Chafa, Moses Muchenje, Tafadzwa Rusike, Simba Nhivi, Phenias Bamusi, Abbas Amidu.