National soccer champions, FC Platinum venture into unchartered territory this afternoon when they tackle Orlando Pirates of South Africa in a Total Caf Champions League Group B match.
The last 16 encounter at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo is the first at this level for FC Platinum who have fallen at the earlier stages of this competition on two occasions. In 2012, the platinum miners suffered back-to-back defeats to Sudanese giants El Merrikh to crash out on 5-1 on aggregate. Their second attempt ended in utter defeat once again early this year when they were beaten 5-1 on aggregate by Angolan side Club Desportivo D’Agosto in the preliminary round. In 2015, FC
Platinum competed in the Confederations Cup. They had another early exit in that year following a 5-2 aggregate defeat by Young Africans of Tanzania.
Therefore, thrice the Zvishavane-based side have campaigned in Africa, and thrice they have been soundly beaten in the first round, conceding five goals on each occasion.
They appear to have learned a few lessons from the three experiences as in the latest edition of the Caf Champions League, they defeated CNaPS of Madagascar and later AS Otoho D’oyo of Congo Brazzaville to qualify for the the group stages for the first time in their short history.
But our ambassadors face a massive and vastly experienced South African side that won the continental competition in 1995. They were the runners-up in the 2015 Caf Confederations Cup and a year later they won the Caf Super Cup. In addition to the African titles, Orlando Pirates have won the South African league some nine times and 23 cup tournaments in their 82 years of existence.
On the other hand, FC Platinum have won two successive league titles and as many super cups in their 25 years of existence. History, therefore, makes the hosts the underdogs in this afternoon’s game. But they will take comfort in the knowledge that history alone does not win games these days. They have a whole nation behind them and they have a talented crop of players to match.
In addition, in Norman Mapeza, FC Platinum have one of the best coaches in the African game. He has distinguished himself as a shrewd tactician who has done well at the clubs he had led. He has also been in charge of the senior national team. Mapeza has a stellar playing history too. With 92 senior caps, he is one of the country’s most capped players. He played in Turkey as well, reaching the pinnacle of his career in the 1994/5 season when he played in the Uefa Champions League for Galatasaray.
“It’s a massive game for us,” Mapeza said yesterday after overseeing his side’s morning training session at Barbourfields.
“We are playing at the highest level of African football. This is the apex of African football and we just need to enjoy the experience which we are in now and come tomorrow (today) at 5PM we will be talking of good news.”
He recognises the magnitude of the match – his charges’ biggest – but by saying they just need to enjoy themselves he appears to not want to put pressure on them.
True, FC Platinum need to enjoy themselves because reaching this stage in three Caf Champions League attempts is a huge stride forward for them thus aren’t under as much pressure as their opponents to progress further. Orlando Pirates have been here, even beyond before and want to continue on that path. They are expected to get a result as well.
We hope FC Platinum will take advantage of that to actually get a positive result for themselves, something like a 2-0 success, and see what happens when they play away in South Africa. This is the approach we suggest they take in the next games in the group which includes champions Esperance of Tunisia and Horoya of Guinea Conakry. They need to grind positive results at home and seek decent results on the road.
We urge Zimbabweans to come in their thousands to support FC Platinum this afternoon at Barbourfields. They are our flag bearers in this year’s edition of the top continental club competition. If they lose, Zimbabwe would have lost; if they win Zimbabwe would have won. We understand that they have secured buses that will transport their supporters from Zvishavane and hope that Bulawayo football fans will be on their side as well.
Considering the quality of players that they have, the pedigree of their coach, the long-standing calm in their camp, that they are the hosts and the fact that their opponents are under pressure to win, we put our money firmly on FC Platinum.