Inside sport with MICHAEL KARIATI
IN 2016, the feeling was that FC Platinum were out to learn about continental club football when they lined up for the first time alongside Africa’s big boys in the 2016 Caf Confederation Cup.
Two years later in 2018, the feeling was that the boys from Zvishavane had grown up, but had not yet matured to seriously challenge the best Africa has to offer in the Caf Champions League.
However, three years down the line, there should be no excuses for failure on the part of the Zimbabwean champions as the boys — who were given enough time to learn and mature — should now be able to fight and establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with across the width of the continent.
After reaching the group stages in 2018 in a tough group that included then Africa champions Esperance of Tunisia, Horoya of Guinea and Orlando Pirates of South Africa, there won’t be any sympathy for Pure Platinum Play should they, this time around, fail to reach the quarter finals.
In fact, the quarter finals is a realistic target for Norman Mapeza and his boys, as after 39 years of Pan African football, Zimbabwean clubs should be talking of a berth in the semifinals or the final itself of Africa’s elite club competition rather than the mini league stage.
Last season’s qualification for the group stages should now be the dream of clubs of lowly ranked African teams from the likes of Namibia, Swaziland, Central African Republic, Mauritius, Burundi and not Zimbabwe where the league is laden with talent as evidenced by the players from the domestic league that attract foreign interest.
In fact, the mini league is no longer a barometer for Zimbabwean clubs in Pan African football competition as FC Platinum themselves, CAPS United and even Monomotapa, have reached this stage before and so, it no longer counts, but higher up there.
A Zimbabwean club has proved before that reaching the final and the semi-finals can be done. In 1998, Dynamos reached the final of this Caf Champions League before controversially losing out 4-2 to Asec Mimosas of the Ivory Coast, and the popular Harare side went closer to repeating that feat in 2008 but ended their campaign in the semi-finals against Cotonsport of Cameroon.
Those days, it was even harder to do it, as only eight teams from all over the continent played in the mini league stages unlike today when there are less qualifying rounds and 16 teams qualify for the mini league stage.
If Orlando Pirates whom FC Platinum held to a draw both home and away and Mamelodi Sundowns from neighbouring South Africa can go all the way and win Africa’s premier club competition, what can fail a Zimbabwean club from doing the same when some of the top players in the South African league are from this land?
FC Platinum can no longer talk of trying to gain experience as they have been in Pan African football before and most of the players at their disposal have been involved in African football with both the club and the national team.
Financially, Pure Platinum Play can compare with some of the top clubs in Africa as they are well funded with their players earning decent salaries and so cannot point to non-payment of bonuses and allowances should they not go all the way.
Coach Norman Mapeza too has garnered enough African football experience both at club and national team level. He has seen FC Platinum play in both the Caf Champions League and the Caf Confederation Cup and has been the Zimbabwe Warriors coach on several occasions on interim basis in Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
In fact, from his humble beginnings in Zengeza to Darryn T and later to Millierder in Poland before finally landing at Galatasaray in Turkey where he featured against the likes of Barcelona in the Uefa Champions League, Mapeza has seen enough of international football to steer FC Platinum through at least to the quarter finals.
After conquering Zimbabwe, this is the time for Mapeza to prove that he is the sort of good coach everyone thinks he is as failure in Africa would see him lose the respect he has worked so hard for.
As was the case in 2018, FC Platinum are guaranteed of the nation’s support, but should be warned that failure to reach at least the quarter finals would not be taken lightly by a Zimbabwean football public still mourning the demise of their beloved Warriors at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
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