By Mukudzei Chingwere
AFTER an imperious campaign on the domestic front, FC Platinum would to have to show they have come of age when they begin their Champions League adventure tomorrow. The Zvishavane miners flew into Madagascar yesterday afternoon, with coach Norman Mapeza expressing satisfaction with the warm reception they received from their preliminary round opponents CNaPS Sports.
Although they have been downplaying their pedigree, FC Platinum appear to be a stronger team than they were last season.
Mapeza and his men said they arrived safely and been well received in Antananarivo.
While FC Platinum have bagged back-to-back championships, with their latest triumph being spiced up by a 13-point winning advantage over nearest rivals Ngezi Platinum, Champions League is a different stage and Mapeza’s men need to show their mettle.
Last year, they bowed out of the same competition at the first hurdle following back-to-back defeats at the hands of Angolan giants Primeiro Agosto.
Primeiro Agosto went on to reach the semi-finals before being controversially eliminated by Tunisian giants Esperance in circumstances that later attracted a CAF ban for Zambian referee Janny Sikhazwe.
Despite setting themselves a mini -league appearance as the minimum requirement, Mapeza refused any talk suggesting he was going into battle with a better-prepared arsenal on his disposal, though it was not immediately established if all that was part of some mind games.
“Some people might say we have an advantage because it (competition) is coming towards the end of the season, but we started playing football in January and to go for 12 months, it is too much for the boys.
“Everybody knows our set objectives, we want to get to the group stages, so we just have to push. The squad is the same, there is no new player since January, these are the same players we had since January, so nothing has changed.
“We just brought two guys (Devon Chafa and Thomas Chideu) three months ago to strengthen the squad, so in terms of the squad and preparedness for the champions league, this time and the previous campaign, it is still the same,” Mapeza said.
The former Warriors coach, however, said the problem afflicting local teams on the continent was lack of international exposure for players, which he said continues to haunt his team even in the upcoming competition.
“At the end of the day, as a coach I still feel we need to be involved in these competitions, it is a bit sad when people say we do not have the quality, (no) it is about experience.
“Look at the squad we have now, how many guys are with the national team, how many guys have been with the Under-23s, how many guys have been involved in these international competitions?”
“For me as a coach, I do not want to put myself (and) the boys under pressure . . . if we get a positive result that is brilliant if we do not that is football, I repeat we do not want to put ourselves under pressure,” he said.
Mapeza travelled with a squad of 19 players, but the experienced Rahman Kutsanzira, who remained behind with a swollen ankle, was conspicuous by his absence from the crew that touched down in Madagascar.