Mukudzei Chingwere Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE’s representatives in the ongoing edition of the CAF Champions League FC Platinum charmed Orlando Pirates coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic after a brave showing in their maiden game in the group stages of this competition at Barbourfields on Saturday.
The match ended in a scoreless stalemate, meaning all the teams in Group B are tied on the same number of points — one — after reigning African Champions Esperance of Tunisia were restricted to a 1-1 draw away to AC Horoya of Guinea.
On Saturday, FC Platinum refused to be cowed into submission by their more illustrious opponents who have won this competition before and stood toe-to-toe against the mighty Soweto giants in a sold-out Barbourfields, which attracted arguably its biggest crowd since the turn of the new millennium.
Not even the vociferous fans who fronted the Happy People’s interest and were by far out- numbering those behind the cause of FC Platinum could deter the miners from giving a good account of themselves.
Their efforts charmed the Serbian coach Sredojevic, who has travelled the length and breadth of the continent, having previously coached teams like Uganda and Rwanda national teams as well as several African clubs.
The Serb, who is popularly known as Micho, hailed the commitment of Zimbabwean teams and even recalled Dynamos run in the 2008 edition of the African Safari where they reached the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League.
In their next assignment in the Champions League FC Platinum are away to Esperance on Friday while Orlando Pirates host Horoya this weekend and Micho has wished the Zimbabweans to do well in this competition.
“We played against a very good competitive team, it was like a game of chess where we really needed to take care of every detail.
“It is two Anglophone and two Francophone teams in our group and now if you have that in mind, we wish FC Platinum all the best (in their next match against Esperance).
“I would say the group is wide open (all) the teams drew and there is a lot of football to be played. They (FC Platinum) are going to Esperance and we are waiting for Horoya,” he continued.
“With the quality they have, the commitment they have, I need to tell you that I know this country very well (and) I respect this country very well.
“I remember the situation in 2008 nobody expected it when Dynamos went and beat the champions that year, Etoile du Sahel, and qualified to the group stages if you still remember.
“Everything is really open. I wish them all the best. They are a good team with good players and a good coach (Norman Mapeza).
“They come from a good footballing country, I really wish (them) all the best.
“I need to tell that from the goalkeeper (Petros) Mhari to (Mkokheli) Dube upfront they were all extremely impressive. It was a team effort and they played very well against us.
“In respect to my colleague coach and the players I will not go to individual players I will just say they have great players who played some good football,” Micho said.
FC Platinum captain Mhari played the game of his life, restricting the Buccaneers fiery attack, which also included Warriors international Kudakwashe Mahachi, from getting the all-important away goal and his efforts was being complemented by the brilliant back-line marshalled by vice-captain Gift Bello.
Midfield sentinel Kelvin Madzongwe provided an important midfield shield which helped the evergreen Farai Madhananga to control the game with the aplomb of a veteran and enthusiasm of a youngster.
Former Highlanders skipper Rahman Kutsanzira was impressive in the final third with his brilliant vision of opening up defences but Dube, who led the line, was frustrated on threatening the visitors’ goal area with another Warriors star Marshall Munetsi in an uncompromising form at the back for Pirates.
The Buccaneers, who came into this encounter with a perfect opportunity to claim an early advantage in the group following the 1-1 draw between Horoya and Esperance the night before, failed to capitalise as they were held by the Zimbabwean champions at a packed Barbourfields.
This is the second time in this years’ instalment of the competition where the Sea Robbers have failed to find the back of the net which will most likely worry their technical team going into the next match against AC Horoya.
On paper, the home side may have appeared as underdogs but on the field they made their presence felt from the start as they pinned the Buccaneers back for the opening minutes of the game.
It doesn’t get easier for Micho and his charges as next up they play host to AC Horoya on Friday.
The Guinean outfit, who have become regular participants in the CAF Champions League, have shown their pedigree in the competition, having ousted Mamelodi Sundowns in the group stages last year and also coming within minutes of defeating defending champions Esperance in their opening match on Friday.
Esperance needed a last ditch equaliser courtesy of a Anice Badri strike to claim a point away from home.
Meanwhile, FC Platinum are scheduled to leave the country tomorrow for the second game in the pool against African champions Esperance on Friday.