Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE could get two more slots in the 2020/2021 CAF inter-club competitions, giving the country four representatives, as the domestic Premiership teams continue their strong comeback into the group of the continent’s elite clubs.
After years in the wilderness, in which they staggered in the darkness in the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup, leading to relegation from the group of 12 nations who can provide extra clubs, the local teams are fighting back.
Dynamos’ humiliating 1-7 aggregate defeat, at the hands of Esperance of Tunisia in the second round of the 2012 Champions League, mirrored the decline of the domestic clubs as a power on the continent.
It also marked the last year two local clubs flew the country’s flag in the tournament.
FC Platinum, who were making their debut, thrashed Green Mamba of Eswatini 8-2 in a preliminary round before falling 2-5 to Al Merreikh of Sudan in the following round.
Zimbabwe were then ranked ninth, in terms of the strength of the domestic Premiership, on the continent with 18 points.
This country was also the only Southern African nation among those with the privilege of fielding four teams in the two tournaments.
Zambia were in 12th place while South Africa were in 16th place with five points.
Only Tunisia, Egypt, the DRC, Nigeria, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco and Mali were considered by CAF to have stronger top-flight leagues than the domestic Premiership back then.
The previous year, Zimbabwe had also been represented in the Champions League by two clubs — Dynamos and Motor Action — and that was the same story in 2010 when the Glamour Boys and Gunners took their places in the tournament.
There were also two Zimbabwean representatives, in the CAF Confederation Cup that year, with CAPS United and Lengthens flying the country’s flag in the second-tier tourney, and the Green Machine’s victories of Moroka Swallows and Warri Wolves of Nigeria represented some high points.
The romance of it all is that even Hwange represented this country in the 2012 CAF Confederation Cup, after finishing fourth in the league in the previous year, with their 7-1 thrashing of Jamhuri of Zanzibar, in the preliminary round, a milestone achievement for the Colliery side.
However, by 2015, things had become very bad, the country didn’t even have one representative in the CAF tournaments.
Chicken Inn took on the challenge the following year, narrowly losing to Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa 2-1 on aggregate and, if that was a signal of the grand comeback, it was confirmed in the next campaign when CAPS United eliminated five-time champions TP Mazembe and reached the group stages.
The Green Machine also went on to defeat five-time champions Zamalek in the group stages.
FC Platinum reached the group stages of the 2018/2019 tournament and the Zvishavane miners have booked their place, in the same stage, in the current tournament.
Now, it’s very likely that should Triangle, who are making their debut in the Confederation Cup, clear the next hurdle and qualify for the group stages of the tournament, Zimbabwe will have four representatives in the next CAF inter-club competitions.
The Lowveld side take on Mauritanian representatives, FC Noadhibhou, in the final eliminator for the group stages of the Confederation Cup.
Zimbabwe had eight points, at the time the draw for the two tournaments was done, and the country was in eighth place, but the strong performances of FC Platinum, in the Champions League, and Triangle’s dream run in the Confederation Cup, could significantly change that.
Especially, if the Lowveld side make the group stages of the Confederation Cup.
The final 12th place is currently occupied by Tanzania, who had 18 points when the draw was made, but the East African nation don’t have a representative in the group stages of the Champions League and their Confederation Cup representative, Azam, were eliminated by Triangle.
CAF use a five-year cycle for their classification and all the countries that are above Zimbabwe — Cote d’Ivoire (15 points), Congo-Brazzaville (11.5 points), Uganda (11 points), Libya (10 points) and Ghana (nine points) — won’t have a representative in the Champions’ League group stages for them to gain more points.
And, in the event Triangle reach the group stages, it will be a major boost for the domestic league.
PSL chairman, Farai Jere, under whose stewardship CAPS United began the quest to take the domestic league back into a place among the elite clubs on the continent when they eliminated TP Mazembe from the Champions League two years ago, noted on Friday that local clubs were now making their presence felt again in the CAF inter-club tournaments.
‘‘We meet, ladies and gentlemen, against a background of the success which our two representatives clubs — FC Platinum and Triangle United — have written in the CAF inter-club competitions,’’ Jere as he opened the inaugural PSL International Symposium in Victoria Falls last Friday.
“I am a disciple of the link between sound boardroom management, and success on the field of play, and when I look at such incredible stories, like Triangle inflicting the first home defeat on Tanzanian side Azam FC in the CAF inter-club competitions, it provides me with the assurance that we are doing something right.
‘‘But, we can never rest, simply because there is a ray of sunshine, because, we all know that our game is battling a number of challenges, which are holding it hostage and preventing it from fulfilling its full potential, and that’s why it’s important that we meet at such forums to exchange frank views that can make a difference.
‘‘Our message is loud and clear, we want to be part of the big tent where others are feasting from the potential of this game, and that’s why we have taken this initiative to ensure that, even if it might appear a small step forward, it’s a welcome step all the same.’’