Sports

FC Platinum’s date with destiny

Norman Mapeza

Eddie Chikamhi

Senior Sports Reporter

FC PLATINUM coach Norman Mapeza says it’s all about confidence and self-belief as the Zimbabwean champions plunge into battle for a CAF Champions League football group phase ticket against Simba SC of Tanzania today.

Kick-off is 4pm at Benjamin Mkapa Stadium in Dar es Salaam and the match will be broadcast live on ZBC television.

The platinum miners carry a slender advantage from the 1-0 home win at the National Sports Stadium in the reverse fixture two weeks ago.

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The Zimbabweans have been ranked outsiders from the onset considering they have not played competitive football in almost a year.

But they have managed to assert themselves with a smooth 4-1 aggregate win over Mozambique’s Costa do Sol in the preliminary round before accounting for the Tanzanian giants at home in the first round, first leg, thanks to Perfect Chikwende’s solitary strike.

Now 90 minutes stand between them and the lucrative group stage.

Mapeza’s men, who arrived in Tanzania at the weekend, have been quietly going about their business and are looking to finish off the job despite playing in front of an expected 30 000 home supporters.

“The mood is generally okay. The guys are looking forward to the game,” said Mapeza.

“We always play football with confidence. You know, without confidence I think it will be very difficult for the players to succeed. We have been talking to the guys, it’s all about confidence and self-belief if you are to win football matches.”

Whether FC Platinum will decide to “park the bus” or go blow for blow, it’s Mapeza’s secret. But what he is sure of is that Simba SC will come out with guns blazing since they are under pressure to score goals.

“Definitely they (Simba SC) are going to come at us, especially in the first few minutes of the game and with the crowds behind them we just need to be very discreet especially in defence and try to manage the situation.

“We just need to be calm, be organised, be very disciplined and try to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves,” said Mapeza.

The match, which has been dubbed “War in Dar” by the hosts, carries a lot of significance for both sides as it will determine the team to progress to the group stage of Africa’s premier club football competition.

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FC Platinum, who are looking to progress to the mini-league for the third time in a row, did well when they denied the Tanzanian giants an away goal in the reverse fixture.

They will be home and dry with a draw or if they can just avoid defeat by two-goal margin. But Simba SC have been doing everything in their powers, including employing unorthodox means to distract the visitors from the mission.

They have targeted FC Platinum and their players in a media blitz that went into overdrive this week after they had dubbed the clash “War in Dar.”

“As for what has been what has been written in the media we are not reading much into that. So many things have been said and we have been hearing about them through the media back home.

“As of now, we haven’t spoken to any media outlet here. So some of the things which are being said or being written in the press here are all just lies.

“As you are aware I never spoke about war with them. I think it’s their coach, I understand he tweeted that it’s going to be war.

“I am someone who has been involved in football for quite sometime and there are some words which I can use in footballm but that word ‘war’ I don’t think it’s a proper word to use in football. It’s a game of football and like I said we are here to compete,” said Mapeza.

Unlike the first leg that was played behind closed doors in Harare due to the coronavirus protocols, the Tanzanian champions have been allowed to fill half of the 60 000-seater Benjamin Mkapa Stadium after applying to CAF for exemption.

Tanzanian football has been opening doors to the supporters through the pandemic.

FC Platinum may also enjoy warm backing from the supporters of Simba’s main rivals, Young Africans, who have promised to rally behind the Zimbabweans.

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“In terms of the crowd, I think it will be a massive advantage for them playing in front of their fans. But it may be a disadvantage as well because, from my understanding, the fans demand a lot from their team and with us leading 1-0, I think they will be so much under pressure from their own fans,” said Mapeza.

“So, like I said before, we just have to be organised and be very disciplined so that we manage both situations, that is from the team and from the supporters.

“We are representing the country at the moment and we need maximum support from all the soccer-loving people back home. I always appreciate the support the people have been giving us back home despite playing in an empty stadium. Those soccer-loving people have been giving us maximum support and I really appreciate it,” said Mapeza.

FC Platinum will welcome midfielder Silas Songani who missed the first leg in Harare because of injury.

The good news in their camp is that there were no injury worries ahead of their final training session yesterday.

Simba’s Belgian coach Sven Vandenbroeck has refused to throw in the towel and is confident of turning around the game.

“We lost 1-0 away but we now have 90 minutes to battle and make things right. We know what to expect from our opponents and we are ready to make Tanzanians proud.

“We want to reach the group stage and we have to win the match,” Vandenbroeck told reporters in Dar es Salaam.

Simba reached the quarter-finals of the 2018-2019 edition but failed to make it past the preliminary stage in the last competition after losing on the away goals rule to UD Songo of Mozambique.

Apparently, the owners of the club have invested a lot of money into the campaign and they cannot endure the pain of failing.

But the Tanzanian side has scored only one goal in three matches of the current Champions League campaign after edging Nigeria’s Plateau United 1-0 in the preliminary round before losing to FC Platinum in the first leg of the first round.

They, however, demonstrated their qualities in their most recent match when they beat Ihefu FC 4-0 in the domestic league, with the goals coming from Mohamed Hussein, Meddie Kagere (two) and Chris Mugalu.

Key forward John Bocco is expected to return from injury while midfielder Jonas Mkude will not be available on disciplinary grounds.

The winner of the two-legged encounter will qualify for the lucrative group stage whose draw will be conducted on January 17, with matches getting underway on February 12.

FC Platinum squad

Petros Mhari, Rahman Kutsanzira, Nomore Chinyerere, Perfect Chikwende, Rainsome Pavari, Donald Dzvinyai, Kelvin Madzongwe, Raphael Muduviwa, Tawana Chikore, Future Sibanda, Denzel Khumalo, William Stima, Gift Bello, Francis Tizayi, Elie Ilunga, Gift Mbweti, Elias Maguri, Silas Songani, Kelvin Mangiza, Lawrence Mhlanga, Ralph Kawondera, Panashe Mutimbanyoka, Evidence Tendayi

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HERALD