Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
AN emotional reunion with King Peter, a battle of wits against Prince Pitso, a duel against Congolese royalty or a date with Egyptian aristocracy are all possibilities today when FC Platinum finally know the identities of their CAF Champions League group stage opponents.
Two years to the month when their training camp in South Africa, where they played Mamelodi Sundowns, laid the foundation for FC Platinum to become kings of domestic football, the two trans-Limpopo teams could meet in the Champions League group stages.
A year earlier, Sundowns had needed a controversial last-minute penalty to edge Chicken Inn, and leap the first hurdle, on their way to finally realising a long-cherished dream of being crowned champions of Africa and justify the millions invested by billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe.
That fiery battle against the plucky Gamecocks, who spoiled King Peter’s Barbourfields homecoming show with an eye-catching 1-0 win in the first leg, appeared to have convinced Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane of the value of sparring sessions against Zimbabwean clubs.
And it was FC Platinum who rolled into Pretoria in January last year for a training camp which the club authorities believed would finally provide their troops with what was needed to transform themselves into champions of domestic football after some heartbreaking near-misses.
A time spent with Mosimane and his men appeared to work the magic as FC Platinum became the first local club from outside Harare and Bulawayo to be crowned champions in more than half-a-century after beating the challenge of serial winners Dynamos.
Images of the camaraderie that flowed between the two clubs during that training camp, which included a friendly match that ended in a draw, suggested a bond of friendship had been built with Mapeza picking a thing or two from the wily old master Mosimane.
Fast forward to next month, exactly two years after that training camp, and there is a possibility the two clubs could battle in the group stages of the CAF Champions League when the draw for the 16 remaining teams is made today.
The only three sides FC Platinum cannot meet in the group stages, which resume on January 11 and end on March 17, are those in Pot Four like themselves — JS Saoura of Algeria, Lobi Stars of Nigeria and one-time African champions Ismaily of Egypt.
That means a possible duel against Sundowns, where Peter Ndlovu is the team manager, who are in Pot 2 alongside Congolese giants AS Vita, Horoya of Guinea and Club Africain of Tunisia.
Or a date against eight-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt, five-time champions TP Mazembe of the DRC, still haunted by the scars of their last visit to Zimbabwe where they were eliminated by CAPS United last year, last year’s winners Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and defending champions Esperance of Tunisia.
The four African football giants, who have 18 Champions League titles among them, including nine won in the last 11 years, are in Pot 1 and FC Platinum could meet one of them in the group stages from next month.
Of course, Mapeza and his men certainly don’t need to be intimidated by history, especially after CAPS United showed them last year that it’s possible to stand toe-to-toe with these heavyweights by eliminating TP Mazembe from the Champions League.
Pot 3 has ASEC Mimosas of Côte d’Ivoire, who ended Dynamos’ dreams of a transformation into champions of Africa under a blaze of controversy in the final in Abidjan 20 years ago, Orlando Pirates, the first Southern African side to be crowned African champions, Simba of Tanzania and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia.
Nine clubs — Al Ahly (8), Mazembe (5), Esperance (3), Wydad Casablanca (2), Pirates (1), ASEC (1), Vita (1), Ismaily (1) and Sundowns (1) — with 23 Champions League titles under their belts, including nine won in the last 11 years, will be in the draw today for possible battles against FC Platinum.
Sundowns, just like FC Platinum, needed success against clubs from two countries whose national teams now stand between Bafana Bafana and the Warriors and places at the next AFCON finals in the final round of qualifiers in March next year.
The Brazilians thrashed Libyan side Al Ahli Benghazi 4-0 in the second leg, after a goalless first leg, to advance to the Champions League group stages for the fourth straight year.
Ironically Sundowns’ parent team, Bafana Bafana, need to avoid defeat against Libya away from home in March next year to ensure they don’t suffer the humiliation of missing out on another AFCON finals appearance.
“I also said to the guys that they need to send a message to Libya to say South Africa is strong (so that) Bafana Bafana goes to Libya without fear,” Mosimane told reporters after his team’s thrashing of Al Ahli.
“We just showed it’s possible (to beat them) and gave confidence to Bafana because we also have players in Bafana who are going to meet them on the same pitch and they must not have fear.”
Mosimane, just like Mapeza, is a former coach of his national team and believes success in the Champions League is what the doctor ordered.
“It’s the culture, the mentality and the right thing to do for us to reach the group stage for the fourth time in a row,” he told his club’s official website.
“When we have a team with the board and president (Motsepe) that says we are not complaining, just go for it, we can’t disappoint.
“He (Motsepe) has been supporting (playing in the Champions League) for a long time. We don’t have an excuse to not, at least, take this team to the group stages of the Champions League because it is important.”
FC Platinum edged Otoho d’Oyo, whose parent team Congo-Brazzaville, now stand between the Warriors and a successive appearance at the AFCON finals when the final round of qualifiers resume in March.
Otoho had shocked the continent by eliminating Angolan side Primero de Agosto, who reached the semi-finals of the Champions League this year, in the previous round.
But a goal they conceded at home to FC Platinum proved a fatal blow for them and Mapeza and his men now face a reality check against some of the game’s real heavyweights, including a possible showdown against Sundowns, in the group stage
Source: The Herald