Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
ORLANDO Pirates coach Milutin “Micho’’ Sredojevic is wary of the FC Platinum threat when his Buccaneers begin their Caf Champions League group stage campaign with an away trip to the Zvishavane miners on January 11 which the Serbian has predicted to be “a tough and very close encounter’’.

Micho, as the widely travelled coach is popularly known, described as tough last Friday’s CAF Champions League draw which pooled his South African football giants in the same Group B as holders Esperance of Tunisia and seasoned campaigners Horoya of Guinea.

The Buccaneers knocked out Light Stars and African Stars on their way to reaching the group stage of this competition for the first time since 2013.

Pirates, winners in 1995, beat Esperance on their way to reaching that 2013 Champions League final when they ended as runners-up to serial winners Al Ahly of Egypt.

But a lot has changed since then, with the Tunisians winning the biggest club knock-out competition in Africa last year and advancing to the FIFA Club World Cup.

Micho, speaking on the draw conducted in Cairo on Friday night, told The Herald at the weekend that he had a lot of respect for FC Platinum and their coach Norman Mapeza and was bracing for a bruising contest against the Zimbabwe soccer kings.

The 49-year-old gaffer also reckoned that the opening group game was key in setting the tone for their bid to advance to the quarter-finals.

Micho believes that any group that has the likes of Esperance, Pirates, Horoya and FC Platinum needs to be recognised as tough, given the wealth of experience, grit and talent that is rich in all the four teams.

“A Group B that has defending champions Esperance, Orlando Pirates, Horoya of Guinea Conakry and FC Platinum is a very tough and competitive group.

“I have the highest degree of respect for coach Norman Mapeza and whatever he has done with Platinum. Even though we are neighbours, Zimbabwe and South Africa, there are many players from Zimbabwe playing in South Africa, I know that he has collected the best quality that Zimbabwe has.

“As the champions representing Zimbabwean football, I know they are very tough nuts to crack, we know that could be a match where one ball could decide the outcome,’’ Micho said.

He also told Laduma of South Africa yesterday: “They (FC Platinum) are the débutantes in the group stages and they are not attractive by name, but their coach Norman Mapeza has done extremely well to guide them to the championship in Zimbabwe.

“This is a team with an incredible amount of motivation, one that will give us a hard time because we are neighbours. One of the biggest problems with facing them is logistics. They are in the middle of Harare and Bulawayo, so reaching there won’t be easy. Our first match is away to them.”

Micho has never made a secret of his admiration of the Zimbabwean game and players from this country after being charmed by the talents and work ethic of former Dynamos and Zimbabwe international Edward Sadomba at Al Hilal in Sudan.

Sadomba became a cult-hero in Khartoum where fierce rivalry exists between El Merreikh and Al Hilal with the club’s fans composing a special song and erecting banners in his honour.

Ironically, Al Hilal have since the departures of Sadomba and Micho struggled to reach the kind of dizzy heights they scaled during the brilliant spell between 2010 and 2013.

Micho also has two Zimbabwean internationals on his Pirates books, with versatile midfielder Marshall Munetsi and winger Kuda Mahachi starring for the Soweto giants.

The Serbian, who helped the Uganda Cranes end a 38-year-wait for a place at the African Cup of Nations at the 2017 tournament in Gabon, said although FC Platinum were newcomers to the group stage, they deserved to be treated with respect for having conquered the Zimbabwean Premiership.

He, however, believes a winning start at Mandava could set them on a firm footing to advancing to the quarter-final stage.

“We shall give our best with the highest degree of respect to our opponents FC Platinum, self-respect to ourselves and special respect to the funny, tricky and unpredictable game of football.

“We are looking forward to using the talent and quality of our players against a very good team of FC Platinum to get the best possible result that will help us later in the matches,’’ Micho said.

The Pirates coach also spoke about West African outfit Horoya whom he said had assembled a strong team that drew its talent from such countries like Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, while supplying the bulk of the players to Guinea’s Sylie Nationale.

“Horoya is the team that is constituted of the best players from West African countries Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast playing in Guinea Conakry so many players that have extra quality and (it’s a) well-funded team.

“Last year they had been ahead of Mamelodi Sundowns going into the quarter-finals. Now when you look at them you have to accept the whole truth and this year they have brought six new players and they want to be extremely competitive and go a step forward and we know that it would be very tough matches against them.’’

Micho also took time to reflect on the pedigree of Esperance and noted that their presence in the group buttressed his argument that there would be no easy fixture in Group B.

He said he had “nothing but admiration’’ for Esperance gaffer Mouine Shabaani whose Tunisian giants finished fifth at the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates last week.

“Esperance, champions of Africa for the last year. We know even in the semi-final they had hardships against Primero Agosto (of Angola) where the referees helped them.

“However, they represented Africa well at the FIFA Club World Cup and finished fifth and when you have that in mind this a tough competition in a very short time and they have a quality coach in Shabaani.

“It will be very tough against Horoya, against Esperance and against FC Platinum but we want to do our best in order to qualify for the quarter-finals,’’ Micho said.

Shaabani last week admitted his club has “many lessons to learn” after finishing fifth at the Club World Cup in the UAE. Tunisia’s African Champions beat north and central American champions Chivas Guadalajara of Mexico on penalties.

Esperance finished the game with nine men as it ended 1-1 after 90 minutes, thanks to two penalties confirmed by VAR.

“We leave this tournament with many lessons to learn,” Shaabani told the media.

“I was so hard on the players after the first game but I would like to thank them for their efforts today,” he added.

“We again conceded a goal very early but we managed to return to the game and show a better face than what we showed against Al Ain.”

The Esperance president Hamdy Meddeb agreed with his coach and gave him his backing for the future.

“We have to learn how to mentally prepare for such occasions, in our first defeat against Al Ain we were hit hard by the difficult beginning,” he told BBC Sport.

“Mouine Shaabani will remain the coach of Esperance I believe he has the potential to become a great coach.”

source: the herald

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