By Robson Sharuko and Eddie Chikamhi
Harare/Maseru — CAPS United marked their return to the CAF Champions League in the same farcical way which characterised their last campaign in Africa’s premier inter-club football tournament with a number of administrative boobs stalking the Green Machine’s challenge once again. Makepekepe ended a lengthy 11-year wait for a dance with the continent’s elite football clubs when they plunged into the 2016 Champions League with an away, first leg, contest against Lesotho champions Lioli in Maseru on Saturday which ended in a goalless draw.
But, for the Green Machine, the return to the big stage was not without incident as the ghost of 2006, which saw them suffer the humiliation of being thrown out of the Champions League in their last flirtation in the tournament, came back to haunt them in Lesotho with two of their star players being barred from the contest.
Midfielder Joel Ngodzo, who has been a revelation at the Green Machine after appearing to lose his way and his discipline to retain the kind of athletic frame needed to complete in top-flight league football was deemed ineligible for the first leg by the match officials.
Another midfielder, Kudzi Nyamufukudza, who is highly-rated by CAPS United coach Lloyd Chitembwe despite being restricted to cameo roles as the Green Machine were crowned domestic champions last year, also met the same fate in Lesotho.
The two players were barred from taking part in the game after discrepancies were noted in the personal details, which the club supplied to CAF for their registration and those on the passports they presented ahead of the showdown in Maseru.
CAPS United conceded that, in Nyamupfukudza’s case, they were the ones who made the mistake while, in Ngodzo’s case, the Green Machine claim that CAF captured the wrong data from the one they sent the continent’s ruling football body related to the personal details of the former Highlanders and FC Platinum midfielder.
Club chief executive, Cuthbert Chitima, said they were confident the issue related to the two players would be resolved this week making them eligible for the second leg in Harare this weekend.
Chitima said they will be in touch with the CAF office this week to get the players available for their coming assignments.
The administrative boob, though, provided a throwback to the events in 2006 when the Green Machine saw their Champions League adventure being ended prematurely and cruelly, after they were disqualified by CAF for having fielded two ineligible players — Malawian internationals George Martins and Gift Makoloni — in the preliminary round of their showdown against Inter Stars of Burundi.
CAPS United held the Burundi club to a 3-3 draw in Bujumbura and a goalless draw in Harare was academic as the Green Machine qualified for the first round on the back of the away goals rule.
Makepekepe were then paired against Moroccan giants Raja Casablanca, in the first round, and — after arriving in Casablanca just hours before their contest — they battled bravely to restrict their hosts to just a one goal lead in the first leg of that contest.
But, before CAPS could get the chance to erase that deficit in Harare, news filtered through that Inter Stars had appealed against the use of Makoloni and Martins in their preliminary round tie and CAF found the Green Machine guilty of fielding ineligible players and disqualified the Harare giants from the tournament.
“CAF has disqualified CAPS United of Zimbabwe from the MTN/CAF Champions League 2006 for using two unqualified players in their match against Inter Stars of Burundi,” CAF said in a statement.
“The decision was taken by the CAF organising committee after careful study of the complaint lodged by the Inter Stars of Burundi, which is in accordance with Article 23 of the regulations of CAF Inter-Clubs Competitions concerning fraud.”
The Burundians were reinstated into the Champions League, but were hammered 0-7 in Casablanca at the hands of Raja and although they won the return leg 2-1 in Bujumbura, the damage had already been done and they crashed out 2-8 on aggregate.
Raja Casablanca, themselves, who appeared set to lose at the hands of Makepekepe, didn’t last long in the tournament as they fell at the next stage.
Despite the drama that characterised their return to the Champions League and a frustrating goalless draw that leaves them at the mercy of their opponents who could be banking on the value of every goal they score in Harare counting double in the event of a draw, Makepekepe were happy with the way they started their campaign.
The Green Machine were captained by Warriors rightback Hardlife Zvirekwi with regular skipper Moses Muchenje restricted to a place on the bench.
“They are a good team and considering that they didn’t score at their home it would obviously mean that they will come at us in Harare. Remember they also want to progress to the next stage which could make it an uphill task for us,” said Muchenje.
“A goalless draw is quite tricky in that if by chance they get an away goal, we would need to score twice. “So whilst the result that we got here is okay, a scoring result would have been much advantageous. We still need to work very hard, even double the efforts that we put in when we were preparing for the first leg.
“I think if we can use the chances that we will get at home it will help us to progress to the next round against TP Mazembe.”
Makepekepe will be hoping that their brilliant record at home, and the wide spaces provided by the giant National Sports Stadium, will carry them through. The Green Machine have not lost a league match at the giant stadium in open play in over a year on their way to winning the 2016 league title.
“We would want to continue with the dominance at home like what we did last season. We had a fine run at home and we want to keep it that way,” said Muchenje. “Personally, I believe hard work brings success. We have to rectify the mistakes that we noticed in the first match here in Lesotho and work on them so that we won’t repeat the same. That’s the only way we can improve.
“The good thing is that we now know how these guys play. So we are hoping for the best. We will work on it so that we shut them out again.” Despite some elementary defensive blunders the side exhibited some promising displays especially in the midfield where Devon Chafa and Kamhapa enjoyed their game.
Newboy Ronald “Rooney” Chitiyo was the driving force going forward carving out a number of chances that the Green Machine could not capitalise on.