FC PLATINUM coach Norman Mapeza says they are hoping to pick up the pieces as they go into the draw today for the less glamorous CAF Confederation Cup group stage play-offs.
The platinum miners were demoted from the prestigious Champions League after falling 1-4 to Tanzanian giants Simba SC in highly controversial circumstances.
The draws for both the Champions’ League group stage and the Confederation Cup group stage play-offs are set to take place at the CAF headquarters in Egypt.
CAF have since confirmed the 16 teams for the group stage despite complaints that some clubs could have used Covid-19 results as a weapon to weaken their opponents.
FC Platinum were not happy they were told moments before kick-off that five of their key players had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to be dropped from the line-up.
The Zimbabweans, who carried a 1-0 advantage from the first leg played at the National Sports Stadium two weeks ago, went on to lose the match 0-4 and crashed out of the competition without first choice goal and skipper Petros Mhari, Lawrence Mhlanga, Silas Songani, Ransome Pavari and Congolese forward Eli Ilunga.
The platinum miners, who have since lodged an official complaint with CAF, were not happy that the hosts held on to the results of the Covid-19 tests that were conducted on Monday until Wednesday afternoon.
Mapeza felt the last minute delivery of the Covid-19 results destabilised his team as he had to draft in some players that were not initially in the plans.
“I think some of them got affected psychologically after hearing about those guys who were said to have tested positive for Covid-19. But at the end of the day I can’t complain because these guys did their best under the circumstances,” said Mapeza.
“We had four guys who were in the first 11. It seems like it was something that was planned because if you look at it, it was department by department that got affected. It really affected us a lot but at the end of the day there was nothing we could do.”
“It’s always difficult when so many things happen before the game. It tends to affect the players psychologically. There are some other things that you can try to speak to the boys to remain calm and focused but I think everybody saw what happened during the game.”
Mapeza also said his players were frustrated on the pitch by some questionable refereeing decisions.
“I think the referee did his best to kill us psychologically because at the end of the day the boys got so much irritated by what was happening. And it really made life difficult for us but it’s something which we should draw some lessons from.
“But it’s always difficult because if you feel like you are being cheated in everything you are doing, you feel very annoyed,” he said.
For the sake of preserving the integrity of Africans football, there were calls this week for CAF to investigate allegations that some clubs could be using the issue of Covid-19 as a weapon to weaken their opponents.
Nigeria’s Plateau United raised similar concerns against Simba SC in the previous round after they were told that two of their key players had tested positive when the team was already warming up for the critical return match in Dar-es-salaam.
Plateau United head coach Abdul Maikaba narrated their ordeal to African Top Sports magazine.
“Five minutes to kick-off, the match commissioner informed us that five of our players tested positive to COVID-19,” he said.
“The information shocked us, we knew it was their plan to frustrate and intimidate us.
“We told them we won’t play the match because the result is coming late.
“Later, the match commissioner returned with a different list that had two players, Sunday Adetunji, Abubakar Ibrahim who were their main targets.
“Sunday Adetunji and the right-back, Abubakar Ibrahim were part of the starting eleven for the match, we had to replace them three minutes to the commencement of the game,” he added.
The Nigerian club then went on to engage the service of a private hospital in Tanzania and the test returned negative. They threatened to take up the matter with CAF.
“The management of Plateau United is looking to petition CAF to look into the antics of @SimbaSC_EN who kept out two of our danger men from confronting them in Dar Es Salaam by claiming that they were Covid-19 positive.
“Well, independent tests were conducted and they are negative,” they posted on the club’s official Twitter handle.
Ghanaian side Asante Kotoko also had issues with the late delivery of Covid-19 results after seven of their players were said to have returned positive results ahead of the decisive tie against Al Hilal of Sudan.
The match was abandoned after the Ghanaian side failed to raise a team and got eliminated in accordance with the tournament rules which state that “a team which fails to present the minimum number of players (11 players including 1 goalkeeper and 4 substitutes), will forfeit the match 2-0.” Asante Kotoko however, have told their local media that they could be heading to the Court of Arbitration for Sports for redress.
Mapeza concurred that the Covid-19 issue had a direct impact on his club’s performance.
The platinum miners will now have another shot in the second tier Confederation Cup as they will engage in a play-off to determine the last 16 for the group stage.
But Mapeza feels the draws which take place today at the CAF headquarters in Egypt should have been postponed to allow for the investigations into the anomalies raised by some of the clubs in the last two rounds.
“We just need to pick ourselves up for the Confederation Cup. I understand the draw is going to happen today. The club has written some complaints to CAF.
“But if the draws are going to be done today, I don’t know what is going to happen. To me it doesn’t make sense because when are they going to make any decision if the complaints have been sent to them and the draws are being done today for the Champions League and Confederation Cup?
“I think CAF should have maybe waited for about a week or so that they should have gone through all those complaints because I understand Asante Kotoko couldn’t play (against Al Hilal).
“I also understand Bloemfontein Celtics when they went to Nigeria they were asked to go into quarantine for 10 days and the match failed to take place.
“So I don’t know how CAF is going to juggle these issues. But at the end of the day I don’t think it’s looking healthy for African football,” said Mapeza. On a sad note, the FC Platinum coach lost his father yesterday. The senior Mapeza died in Harare at the age of 81 years from complications related to COVID-19.