insidesport:with MICHAEL KARIATI
FOUR days have now passed, but Zimbabwean football followers have not forgotten the cruel manner in which FC Platinum were eliminated from the 2021 Caf Champions League.
The Zimbabwean football followers are still trying to figure out whether it was really Simba Stars as a team who eliminated Pure Platinum, or a combination of both “dirty off-the-field” tactics and poor officiating.
Firstly, five of FC Platinum’s top players, including goalkeeper Petros Mhari— who were tested and found Covid-19-free upon departure from Harare — were controversially barred from featuring in the match after they were told by Tanzanian officials that they had tested positive for Covid-19, a couple of hours before the start of the game.
That this happened to FC Platinum a few weeks after the same trick was applied on Nigeria’s Plateau United and failed would make us conclude that the Covid-19 results and the timing of their release were meant to weaken and frustrate the Zimbabwean team.
For the record, Plateau United demanded a retest of their players and two of them were later on found to be negative after initially being declared positive in the first testing conducted in Tanzania.
That is not all. The Gabonese referee who handled the FC Platinum encounter was so biased towards Simba Stars to the extent that he even awarded the hosts free kicks and throw-ins when it was blatantly clear that it was a Simba player who had knocked the ball out of play.
More saddening is that he denied FC Platinum what appeared to be a genuine penalty when Perfect Chikwende was brought down in the penalty area while at the same time he awarded Simba Stars a dubious penalty for an offence that was committed outside the area.
Those who watched both games between Simba Stars and FC Platinum will no doubt agree that Simba Stars are not as good as we were earlier made to believe and they— even with their dirty tactics and referees — will be lucky to survive in the group stages.
Sadly, though, there are some of us who have not been sympathetic to FC Platinum’s cruel departure from the Caf Champions League and have been celebrating the team’s exit on social media.
This is the time when the football fraternity should have been united behind a team representing the country, but sadly, FC Platinum’s dominance of Zimbabwean football has created them more enemies.
Worse still is the fact that some have even gone to the extent of betraying their own club and their own national team by “selling” videos and information to visiting teams for a few US dollars.
Imagine one doing that in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya or Colombia? Or in the Asian world where betting is at its highest?
However, inasmuch as we would like to question the manner of Simba Stars’ victory, FC Platinum could have done themselves good by not spending much of their time arguing with the referee.
The moment they realised that the match officials were on Simba Stars’ side, “Kugona Kunenge Kudada” should have concentrated more on their own game rather than the referee.
As they go down to the Caf Confederation Cup, FC Platinum should take lessons from the Simba Stars experience and be prepared to face whatever the opposition throws at them in foreign lands — be it on the field of play or outside it.
Discipline — even when the whistle is going against them — is one thing that coach Norman Mapeza should instill in his players, otherwise red cards will rain on them if they do not change their attitude.
Right now, FC Platinum’s mission should be to — at least — reach the quarter-finals of the Caf Confederation Cup and prove that indeed they were robbed in Dar es Salaam.
This time around, there won’t be the referee or Covid-19 tests to blame for their failure, but themselves.
Nothing for the Warriors to fear
On January 16, 368 of Africa’s most gifted home-based players will assemble in Cameroon to battle for the continent’s biggest prize for footballers who ply their trade in their home countries.
As has been the case since the tournament’s inception in 2009, Zimbabwe and its 23 players will be one of the 16 national teams entering the ring eager to prove that its domestic game is the best Africa has to offer.
Over those past 12 years — even with the best of coaches like Sunday Chidzambga and Kalisto Pasuwa — Zimbabwe failed to go beyond the group stages — always coming back home early and with a lot of excuses.
The question is: Will 2021 be the year Zimbabwe will conquer Africa? Or, it will be the same old story, but with an added flavour? Opinion, however, is divided over the Warriors’ chances with the doubting Thomases being in the majority.
The Warriors are in the same group with hosts Cameroon whom they meet in the opening game on January 16. They then face Burking Faso on January 20, before rounding off their group matches against Mali on January 24.
Some argue that the Warriors do not stand a chance in this group as they have not played a competitive match since November 16, 2019, when the 2019 soccer season came to an end.
Others claim the Warriors are learning a new type of football under Zdravko Logarusic, having qualified under Joey Antipas who was not considered for the top Warriors coaching job.
Some even point to the team’s preparations which were disrupted when nine players tested positive for Covid-19 upon return from the Christmas holidays with their families.
Whatever the case, a look at the quality of players at the Warriors’ disposal points to a breakthrough as long as the players believe in themselves.
Yes, the Warriors’ preparations were hit hard by Covid-19, but give me the name of one team among the 15 other qualifiers whose preparations were not affected by the pandemic? The answer is NONE.
As they head for Cameroon tomorrow, the Warriors should be their own “men” and should not be intimidated in facing the likes of Burkina Faso, Cameroon or Mali.
After all, the West Africans are hardly men from Mars or another planet, but players from clubs such as Cotonsport, Canon Yaoundé, Stade Malien, SONABEL and Bobo Dioulasso who are just like FC Platinum, Highlanders and Caps United back at home.
For the first time in years, there is a flicker of hope and the Zimbabwean football public is expecting a far much better show than the 12-year first round eliminations at Chan.
Everyone agrees that the coaches selected the best players available in the domestic league and only a place in the quarter-finals with do justice to the talents on show.
Apart from the on-field performance, Zimbabweans are also expecting a drama-free campaign than the chaos — over bonuses and allowances — that characterized Zimbabwe’s appearance at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
The focus, however, is on how far the Warriors will go in this 16- team football festival. From the look of things, the Warriors are ready to prove the obituary writers wrong.
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