Mukudzei Chingwere in ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar
FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza has instructed his players to strap their knees with bandages to avoid injuries when the Zimbabwe soccer champions begin their CAF Champions League campaign with a preliminary round, first leg date against CNaPS Sport on the badly kempt artificial turf at the Centre des Loisirs de la CNaPS Vontovorona in Antananarivo, Madagascar, this afternoon.
The match kicks off at 1:30pm Zimbabwean time.
Coach Mapeza and his men touched down on the Indian Ocean island nation on Monday afternoon.
They conducted their training session at the match venue yesterday at the same time the match will be played to get used to the conditions they will be exposed to this afternoon.
The stadium is approximately 15km from the team’s hotel but because of the poor road infrastructure and the dust road leading to the venue as well as the traffic conundrum, it takes close to 45 minutes to get to the stadium.
Before his departure for Madagascar, Mapeza talked of how difficult it is to play on an artificial surface and upon setting foot into the field of play, his worst fears were immediately confirmed.
The team complained of the poor playing surface and as of last night it was agreed to play the game with everyone bandaged on their knees to avoid injuries.
However, the weather appears not to be that bad with average afternoon temperature likely to be around 30 degrees.
“It is always difficult to play on an artificial turf and most of the (CNaPS) guys play with bandages on their knees which shows how difficult it is to play on the artificial turf,” Mapeza said.
After failing to get to the later stages of the competition the last time out, Mapeza has indicated that they are targeting a group stage participation and many will be tipping them to achieve that task following their success on the local scene where they successfully retained their title with a commanding 13-point advantage over second-placed Ngezi Platinum Stars.
FC Platinum have responded by setting up a perfect ambience for the technical team and players to solely focus on the task at hand in the field of play.
Knowing the pitfalls of the African jungle where an opponent gets to the battle proper already defeated psychologically by the conditions created by the hosts, FC Platinum have moved in to tame the usually notorious jungle.
The Zimbabwean Premiership kings arrived in Madagascar with their own catering personnel to prepare the food they are used to back home.
They also came with an interpreter to bridge the communication gap between this English-speaking team and the French-speaking Malagasy side.
Mapeza told his chairman, Evans Mutombeni, that the situation of the turf was bad but remained confident the job can be done this afternoon.
“They complained about the turf saying it will not allow them to play their usual game because of the condition of the surface. The coach is saying the condition of the field of play is worse than what he had anticipated.
“They are likely to play with bandages on their knees to avoid sustaining injuries on the turf they are not used to play on.
“But, above all, and the most important thing is that they are ready and raring to go for their first match in the Champions League and as for the weather, the coach is saying it is fine,” said Mutombeni.
Mapeza is likely to go with a defensive formation and look at finishing off the job back home in a week’s time when the opponents visit Mandava for the return leg. By the look of things, he will go with three central defenders and five defence- minded midfielders with former Warriors defender Lawrence Mhlanga joining Gift Bello and defensive stalwart Kelvin Moyo at the heart of defence.
In midfield, six-time league championship winner Devon Chafa is set to partner Winston Mhango and workhorse Farai Madhanhanga, who has been a revelation this season. Wingbacks Elvis Moyo and Raphael Muduviwa are likely to be deployed to provide the width.
Cameroonian Albert Eonde might be tasked to lead the team’s hunt for goals, supported by the league’s leading goalscorer, Rodwell Chinyengetere.
Just like FC Platinum, the hosts have also failed to make a mark on the continental stage but given the success of their national side which qualified for the 2019 AFCON finals, the locals here are optimistic of progression and are confident of victory.
FC Platinum’s probable line-up
Petros Mhari, Elvis Moyo, Raphael Muduviwa, Gift Bello, Lawrence Mhlanga, Kelvin Moyo, Winston Mhango, Devon Chafa, Farai Madhanhanga, Rodwell Chinyengetere, Albert Eonde