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Platinum on the ropes

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If ever there is a baptism into African inter-club football, then FC Platinum’s Caf Champions League 2-2 draw against El Merreikh in Saturday’s first round, first leg, at Rufaro Stadium is one such event.

The crack Sudanese club boasting four internationals were clearly the better team for most of the match, and eventually scored the vital away goals through Mike Mutiyaba and captain Saedi Mustapha.

The home squad, who showed signs of improvement in the second stanza after a very uninspiring first half, got their goals through Mitchelle Katsvairo and Joel Ngodzo.

The Young Warriors midfielder, Ngodzo, was the only beacon that shone from the FC Platinum team with his penetrating runs from the wings which caused problems for the away squad.

Other players seemed overawed by the occasion and with a section of supporters — predominantly Dynamos fans routing for the Sudanese team to win — it didn’t help Platinum in any way.

However, the host team’s major undoing was the defence. The back four of Gilbert Banda, Daniel Vheremu, Qadr Amini and out-of-sorts Zephaniah Ngodzo played with a staggering lack of organisation.

They were very slow in tracking back after every failed attack especially on the right flank where Ngodzo operated.

He was to blame for the two goals Merreikh scored as the big number 20 Remi Adiko was always lurking behind the former Highlanders defender.

That changed though with the introduction of tough tackling Norman Togara who looked very comfortable at the right-back position, thwarting every raid by the Sudanese and making his own occasional bursts upfront before he was shown a red-card for a second bookable offence.

There-in lies the biggest problem for Gumbo. He will now have to juggle between throwing back Ngodzo into the first line-up, which could be a big risk — or go for Hardlife Mavundi, a right winger, but played the last four minutes as a makeshift right-back. Whatever decision Gumbo is going to make, he will have to fix the right-back position because the enemy have realised it’s the team’s weak link.

Holding midfielder Cabby Kamhapa also proved too light for the imposing El Merreikh midfielders who bossed the department at will.

He is too smart to be an anchorman; spending 94 minutes without even committing a single marking foul. He only went for the loose balls — and got them — he will seek Banda behind him instead of launching an attack.

Thabani Kamusoko can be a possible replacement, but Mernard Mupera could even have been better.

Worse, there was Khumbulani Banda upfront, good holder of the ball, but one player who has problems in turning with the pace of the game. Ginger-haired Welcome Ndiweni was a better option.

Gumbo should also quickly make a decision between playing Joel just behind the strikers or continuing wasting him on the wings. He was lost on the flanks, but looked threatening every time he came through the centre.

The possible return of bustling striker Donald Ngoma, who missed the Saturday match through injury, should give FC Platinum some hope.

“It will be a massive challenge for us in Sudan, but we can do it,” said FC Platinum goalkeeper Tafadzwa Dube.

“We did not play to our best today. Some of the supporters were not helpful at all as they supported El Merreikh. We felt like we were playing away from home. We won’t have that pressure in Sudan so we should do better.”

Dube’s sentiments on some section of the supporters’ behaviour were echoed by the club’s secretary Phil Muvengwa who hinted they would not play in Harare in the event they go through to the second round.

“We were playing away from home in our country. I understand the rival that exists between us and Dynamos, but we didn’t expect that,” said Muvengwa.

FC Platinum was forced to play at Rufaro after Caf deemed Zvishavane not suitable to host the match because of lack of accommodation facilities, an area Muvengwa said was being worked on.

“We have a three star lodge in Zvishavane, but it’s being renovated. They were adding 10 rooms to it and I think they will be through with construction by the time we play in the second round,” said the confident Muvengwa who vowed his team will go through despite Saturday’s events.

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