FC Platinum, Zimbabwe’s second representatives in the Caf Champions League, face the real African football jungle when they engage Sudanese giants Al Merreikh in the first round later this month.
The first leg will be played at Mandava Stadium on March 24 and the return leg in North Africa on the weekend of April 6-8.
Merreikh has reached the group stages of the Champions League once in 2009 while in 2001, 2002 and 2010 managed to get to the second round and last season ended their campaign in the first round.
They won the then Africa Cup Winners Cup in 1989 and were runners up in the Confederation Cup in 2007. The following season they failed to make it and ended their campaign in the group stages.
Platinum have achieved their first target; to play in the Champions League after just a season in the top flight. Coach Rahman Gumbo had to ensure that dream by either winning the league title or finishing second, but the real target was finishing runners up in their debut.
For the 2012 season, reaching the first round has been accomplished and to beat Merreikh and set up a date against either TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo or Power Dynamos of Zambia would be a bonus.There is a huge weight of expectation from the Platinum supporters and management and worse still the next campaign involves Harare giants Dynamos, who will play either Mafunzo of Zanzibar or Liga Muculmano of Mozambique after they got a bye in the first round.
Should they progress, they could face reigning champions Esperance who have a date against Brikama of Gambia. Esperance, like Dynamos, are one of the seeded teams and will enjoy the priviledge of playing the first leg away from home.
Liga, who have former Manchester United assistant coach Carlos Queiroz as one of their shareholders, lead 2-0 from the first leg played away two weeks ago. The second leg takes place this weekend in Maputo.
Leading 4-2 from the first leg against Green Mamba, the return leg at Mandava was a mere formality for Gumbo’s side even without injured hitman Donald Ngoma. Charles Sibanda took the responsibility with a man-of-the-match performance where he scored a double and created two for his teammates.
Merreikh will be different and as the Platinum fans and their management were celebrating, Gumbo and his assistant Tendai Chikuni were well aware of the challenges ahead, especially looking at the fact that they had scored one goal in 90 minutes of the second half. They scored one away against Mamba, and failed at home in the last 45 minutes where basically none of the strikers were on target.
Champions League fixtures
23-25/03/12: Mafunzo (Zanzibar) or Muculmano de Maputo (Mozambique) v Dynamos
06-08/04/12: Dynamos (Zimbabwe) v Mafunzo or Muculmano de Maputo
23-25/03/12: Brikama (Gambia) v Esperance
06-08/04/12: Esperance (Tunisia) v Brikama
23-25/03/12: Platinum (Zimbabwe) v Al Merreikh
06-08/04/12: Al Merreikh (Sudan) v Platinum
23-25/03/12: Power Dynamos (Zambia) v TP Mazembe
06-08/04/12: TP Mazembe (DR Congo) v Power Dynamos
23-25/03/12: Hwange (Zimbabwe) v Al Amal Otbara
06-08/04/12: Al Amal Otbara (Sudan) v Hwange