BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
Zimbabwe champions FC Platinum face what could be their biggest test in their bid to go beyond the group stage of the 2020-21 Africa Champions League when they host Tanzanian champions Simba SC in the first round, first leg of the tournament qualifiers at the National Sports Stadium today.
FC Platinum might have easily prevailed over Costa do Sol when they knocked them out 4-1 on aggregate in the preliminary round, despite having gone through weeks of turbulence in which they were forced to ditch Hendrikus Pieter De Jongh and rope in former coach Norman Mapeza because the Dutchman was not licensed by the Confederation of African Football to sit in the dugout, but there is a difference in terms of preparedness between the Mozambican champions and Simba SC.
Besides being the most dominant club in Tanzania in recent years having won a treble in the 2019/20 season, Simba SC were Caf Champions League quarter-finalists in the 2018/19 campaign, and reached the Caf Cup final in 1993. Although they had a disappointing 2019/20 league campaign, they are a colossus in African football and present a real challenge for Mapeza and his men.
That their season has been running even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which paralysed sport across the globe, speaks volumes about their preparedness both physically and mentally.
With the Zimbabwean Premier League season yet to restart and FC Platinum having only played two competitive matches in the African Champions League against Costa do Sol in the previous round, issues of fitness are a cause for concern for Mapeza. Under the circumstances, the odds are stacked against the Zimbabwe champions. Simba SC chief executive officer, Barbara Gonzalez summed it all up when she told reporters in Tanzania that they had an advantage over the Zimbabwe champions.
“Simba have played a number of matches including those of Caf Champions league in the preliminaries plus several others in the Mainland Premier League. This is an advantage for us,” she said, adding that the Harare weather did not bother Simba players since it was similar to that of Mbeya and Arusha where Simba played a number of Premier League matches.
Mapeza might also be deprived of at least two of his star players with Silas Songani ruled out of the match after picking a knock in the previous match while Ralph Kawondera is still being assessed and will have to pass a late fitness test.
The FC Platinum gaffer however, remains confidence in the face of adversity.
“It has been good so far I can’t complain, I think Silas Songani picked up a knock against Costa do Sol so he is definitely out then we are assessing Ralph Kawondera, he got injured against Eagles FC, but everyone else is okay. We are playing a quality team with a lot of quality players, if you check in their squad they have got players from Ivory Coast from Zambia and Mozambique and it clearly shows their intentions towards this tournament. We have been talking to the boys we have some video analysis that we did and the guys are ready.
It’s a game of football, it’s all up to us, we need to maximise on our home advantage. We have to put everything into this match if we are going to be successful,” he said.
Simba progressed after knocking out Plateau United of Nigeria 1-0 on aggregate.
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