Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
THE big question related to CAPS United’s pedigree to play in the group stage of this year’s CAF Champions League will partly be answered tomorrow when they clash with continental powerhouse TP Mazembe in the first leg of the first round decider in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Green Machine received a huge boost yesterday when all the players and coaching staff received One Fusion lines from NetOne who are turning into all-weather friends for local football.
The company also bankrolled the Warriors’ 2017 Nations Cup finals adventure.
Yesterday, CAPS United received 40 lines from NetOne.
“One Fusion is a lifestyle that meets any budget. We want every Zimbabwean to experience affordable and efficient internet access. We felt sports ambassadors should be part of the family just as individuals, companies and churches have migrated to our network,” NetOne acting chief executive Brian Mutandiro said.
“This will enable them to connect with their supporters at affordable rates.”
Makepekepe, who have set themselves a target which will come with huge monetary rewards of $550 000 reserved for the teams that reach the group stage, will also wear NetOne T-shirts as part of the deal.
The performance in Lubumbashi, before a full-house, will definitely set the pace for the return leg at the National Sports Stadium next Sunday.
While many in the football circles have not given them a chance, Makepekepe leave for the DRC tomorrow morning high on confidence after securing a charter flight for a brief in-and-out visit.
Although they have not played at this stage in 11 years, there has been an unbelievable sense of defiance and self-belief in their camp.
TP Mazembe have an imperious home record in inter-club competitions and are a nightmare for any team having been one of the most successful clubs on the continent after winning the tournament five times.
The crack Congolese outfit, owned by billionaire businessman and politician Moise Katumbi, have often used its financial muscle — with an average yearly budget of US$10 million — to get to the crest of African football.
Some critics even claim they use foul means, including allegations of referees who end up playing for the Congolese giants, especially at home.
And this year TP Mazembe will be out to avoid the disappointment they suffered last season when they failed to make the group stage of the Champions League with a disappointing 3-1 aggregate defeat at the hands of Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca on the last hurdle.
The club’s new expatriate coach Thierry Froger has made a commitment to take them back to the top and the match against CAPS United is crucial for the Frenchman.
They have the resources and a wide-selection of local and foreign-based stars that include Côte d’Ivoire goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo, the Ghanaian pair of Solomon Asante and Daniel Adjei, Zambians Nathan Sinkala, Rainford Kalaba and Given Singuluma, Malians Adama Traore, Salif Coulibaly and veteran local star Tresor Mputu.
Apart from Ronald Pfumbidzai, who is nursing a knee injury, coach Lloyd Chitembwe has all his arsenal at his disposal.
“Our preparations have been good. We have done a lot of homework and I am sure for now I can definitely say we are ready.
“That they have won trophies in the Champions League does not bother us at all. As for them being African champions is not important to us. What’s more important to us is what we are focusing on, which is commitment and determination.
“That’s more important as far as I’m concerned. As for them winning the African Championship 10 times, 15 times we don’t really care.
“I’m sure it’s just a football thing. We are a very competitive team and for us I am sure we have done well in trying to match them,” said Chitembwe.
In terms of experience at the highest level, Makepekepe have a huge handicap, but they will be hoping that the leadership of vice-captain Hardlife Zvirekwi and goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda on the pitch will come in handy.
CAPS United have also benefited from the recent resurgence of striker Simba Nhivi and midfielder Devon Chafa who has been raising his game with each outing.
Diminutive midfielder Ronald Chitiyo could also play a big role if he finds good form.
Chitiyo was instrumental in Makepekepe’s passage to the first round after he created the opening goal converted by Nhivi and then burying the second with a touch of class as they beat Lioli of Lesotho 2-1 in the preliminary round.
The Lesotho side exposed Makepekepe’s pre-season shortcomings especially in defence where Justice Jangano and Denis Dauda made several uncharacteristic mistakes.
Their strikeforce was also not as sharp for a team playing Champions League football.
Veteran forward Leonard Tsipa will miss the trip again as he was not registered for the qualifying rounds of the tournament.
The Green Machine are still confident they have done their homework and are raring to go.
Their skipper Zvirekwi said they need to apply themselves well since they carry the hopes of the whole nation.
“We are representing the whole nation. If CAPS United fails then it means the whole nation has failed. So we are appealing for support from all Zimbabweans.
“Those who are able to travel please make arrangements and come, we need you. Those who remain behind we also need your prayers and support,” said Zvirekwi.