Makomborero Mutimukulu in SFAX, Tunisia
THE last time a group of Zimbabwean footballers played at the Stade Taieb Mhiri was 13 years ago when the Warriors made their Nations Cup bow in this country, with captain Peter Ndlovu scoring three times in two matches, while Esrom Nyandoro scored once.The inspirational Ndlovu scored once, in the Warriors’ 1-2 2004 AFCON finals Group C showdown against Egypt, remembered — too — for that horror last-gasp miss by Wilfred Mugeyi which would have given Sunday Chidzambwa and his men a point their spirited efforts deserved.
King Peter would again score twice, four days later, in a 3-5 defeat for his Warriors at the hands of then defending AFCON champions Cameroon, with Nyandoro getting the other goal.
Patrick Mboma, one of the best strikers to emerge on the continent, scored a hat-trick for the Indomitable Lions on that afternoon.
Thirteen years later, another group of Zimbabwean footballers are at this Tunisian city, on the shores of the Mediterranean, this time on a CAF Champions League adventure with CAPS United on a mission to revive their campaign which was dented by a shock home defeat the last time the Green Machine were in action.
CAPS United fans back home will be hoping for goal-scoring heroes, like King Peter and Esrom Nyandoro, when their men plunge into battle here tomorrow night but also praying that their defensive shield performs better than how the Warriors did in those two matches in 2004.
The Zimbabwe champions spent more than 24 hours airborne, passing through Johannesburg and Cairo, only to arrive in Tunis to a reception pregnant with hostility from their hosts Al Ahli Tripoli and Tunisian immigration officials ahead of tomorrow’s CAF Champions League Group B showdown here.
The Green Machine and their Libyan opponents, who are playing their home matches at a neutral venue due to serious security concerns in their home country which is reeling from political strife, renew their rivalry at the Stade Taieb Mhiri tomorrow evening.
However, this war of attrition in Africa’s premier inter-club competition appeared to explode as soon as CAPS United touched down on the shores of the Mediterranean soon after 11:30 am yesterday during a trans-continental trip that had taken them from Harare towards the tip of the bottom of Africa and then across the length of the continent.
Lloyd Chitembwe and his men were made to wait for over three hours at Carthage International Airport in Tunis amid claims that the man authorised to stamp their visas was said to be not in his office.
“The boss is not in and he has the stamp,” said a Tunisian customs officer without a hint of shame.
The Al Ahli Tripoli official, who was there to supposedly welcome the Zimbabwean champions, was of little help, grinning and shaking his head when asked why the immigration formalities were taking a lifetime.
But just when threats were made to lodge a complaint with the Confederation of African Football, the doors for CAPS United to enter Tunisia were opened, even without the so-called “boss” coming with the mysterious stamp to clear the Zimbabwean delegation.
Makepekepe, though, were not coming to Tunis as their final destination.
Instead, they were travelling to Sfax, which is on the southern tip of the country and about 266km from Tunisia, and the Zimbabwe delegation was bundled into a bus for a two-and-half hour trip here where the CAF Champions League battle will be fought.
Chitembwe must have been charmed by the way his lads remained in high dispirits despite a taxing journey and the immigration drama.
“We will make them regret treating us like this,” vowed midfielder Ronald Chitiyo whose brace sank Algerian side USM Alger in Makepekepe’s only win of the group stage so far.
The team was scheduled to have a light workout last night as they prepare for a game that has become a must-win affair after Al Ahli Tripoli came to Harare at the start of the month and handed Makepekepe a 2-4 hiding at the National Sports Stadium.
The Green Machine, who are making their group stage debut, have three points from as many matches while their opponents tomorrow and USM Alger are tied on four points.
Five-time African champions Zamalek lead the way with five points.
However, a win tomorrow will put the Zimbabwean champions back into last eight reckoning as well as go some way towards cleaning up their image following that embarrassing reverse fixture.
With his dressing room ransacked by injury, Chitembwe decided to play three men at the back against Al Ahli Tripoli and things backfired badly.
The visitors had a stroll and raced into a 4-0 lead before late goals from Ronald Pfumbidzai and Hardlife Zvirekwi did some damage control.
Second-choice goalkeeper Jorum Muchambo also did not inspire confidence that afternoon.
He has not made this trip with Prosper Chigumba set to deputise the returning Edmore Sibanda.
Central defender Dennis Dauda is also available for selection, further raising hope that the team will not be as generous with their defending as they were in the reverse leg.
The message from Chitembwe has been clear and repetitive.
“We are still in this competition, you guys have made a name of fighting against the odds and this game gives you another chance to live up to that reputation once more.
“Don’t get disturbed by the mind games, focus on the game and show that you are not in the group stages by chance,” said the CAPS United gaffer as the team made its way to Sfax.
CAPS United’s trip was made possible by their partners NetOne through their OneFusion product.