Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
COSTA NHAMOINESU got Zimbabwean footballers’ adventure in UEFA’s two main inter-club tournaments this season underway last night as Czech Republic giants Sparta Prague plunged into a Europa showdown in Serbia.
The 33-time Czech champions, the most successful football club in the Balkan country which is still celebrating their national team’s historic qualification for their maiden FIFA World Cup final where they lost to France, were in action against Serbian side Spartak Subotica.
The second qualifying round, first leg, match was at the 13 000-seater Subotica City Stadium in Serbia’s northernmost city, on the border with Hungary, with the second leg of the decisive battle set for Prague in the Czech Republic next week.
The winner of this duel will take on Danish side Brondby in the third qualifying round for a place in the group stages where Knowledge Musona’s new Belgian side Anderlecht are one of the teams that had automatic entrance this season.
The Warriors skipper, who moved to Anderlecht from KV Oostende during the off-season, has to wait until the group stages of the tournament, starting on September 20, with the battles running until December 13.
The other heavyweights waiting for their prey in the group stages include Arsenal and Chelsea, Lazio, Sporting Lisbon, Marseille, Leverkusen, Villarreal and Real Betis.
Another Zimbabwean international, Tino Kadewere, was supposed to be in action yesterday for his Swedish side Djurgardens who were held to a 1-1 draw by Ukraine side Mariupol at the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm in their first leg showdown.
However, Kadewere — one of the heroes of the Warriors success story at the COSAFA Cup recently, is currently sidelined by a long-term injury and did not feature for his team last night.
The Swedish side have a mountain to climb in the second leg next week to make the next round as they needed a goal, four minutes into added time, by Senegalese striker Aliou Badji to force a draw, at home, having trailed for the better part of the match to a first half goal by the visitors.
Nhamoinesu, who withdrew from the COSAFA Cup squad at the last minute because of injury concerns, is back to full fitness and celebrated his 32nd birthday last month.
His withdrawal from the team, though, did not stop him to keep track with events that were unfolding in South Africa as he congratulated his teammates following their triumph over Zambia in the final.
“Well done Zimbabwe Warriors for lifting the COSAFA Cup 2018. Let’s keep moving forward together,’’ Nhamoinesu tweeted.
The gangly Zimbabwean defender started from the bench last night in his team’s Europa League battle in Subotica and watched helplessly as the Serbian hosts took an eighth minute lead through defender Nemanja Calasan which they defended until the break.
Thirteen minutes after the interval, Spartak Subotica doubled their lead through Ognjen Duricin to consolidate their control on the game.
Sparta Prague finished fifth in their domestic championship last season to book a place in the Europa League, a competition they are familiar with after reaching the quarter-finals two years ago following a very good run.
Back then, Sparta Prague finished second in their group behind German giants Schalke 04 and thrashed Russian side Krasnodar 4-0 in the Round of 32.
They even went a gear up in the Round of 16 when they destroyed Italian giants Lazio 4-1 on aggregate to book a place in the quarter-finals.
However, their campaign ended when they met their match in Villarreal with the Spanish side beating them 6-3 on aggregate.
Villarreal went on to lose 1-3 on aggregate to Liverpool in the semi-finals.
Nhamoinesu posted his picture training in Subotica on his Facebook page on Wednesday, telling his fans he was preparing for this Europa League battle.
“Training before first qualification match of Europa League! Come on Sparta,’’ he wrote on his Facebook page.
But his team, who are under the guidance of 48-year-old Czech Republic coach Pavel Hapal, found the going tough in Serbia last night as the hosts took control of this contest.
However, all is still not lost for Nhamoinesu and his teammates who will now have to play better if they entertain any hopes of overturning the first leg deficit. Another Zimbabwean international, midfielder Marvelous Nakamba, is also waiting to feature in the UEFA Champions League w ith his Belgian side Club Brugge who won the country’s championship last season.