By Sheldon Hakata
BULAWAYO soccer enthusiasts will have a feast on their table when Zimbabwean champions FC Platinum lock horns with South African giants Orlando Pirates in the Total CAF Champions Group B thriller at Barbourfields Stadium tomorrow.
The potentially explosive tie has been dubbed ‘The Battle of the Limpopo’.
It is not everyday that you have a team like Orlando Pirates coming to your home town.
Bulawayo will be grateful to FC Platinum for bringing this game to Barbourfields Stadium as the ABSA Premiership side enjoys huge support in Bulawayo and throughout Zimbabwe.
The match has been moved to Bulawayo after CAF deemed Mandava Stadium, the FC Platinum fortress, not fit to hold matches of that magnitude.
Soccer fans will get a chance to watch competitive football earlier since the local league starts in March.
This will be a big game and a blessing in disguise for most soccer lovers, especially those in and around Bulawayo who have been accorded this opportunity on their doorstep.
A big match has been brought to the city.
Local fans will drive from every corner of the country for this epic duel.
Bulawayo fans last watched continental clubs competitive football in 2016 when Chicken Inn played host to another South African side, Mamelodi Sundowns, in the first leg of the first preliminary round of the same tournament.
Pure Platinum Play are expected to put up a good fight against Orlando Pirates despite CAF’s decision to condemn the use of their traditional home ground, Mandava Stadium, in this stage of the competition.
Having played their group stage qualifying rounds at Mandava Stadium, the club accepted the harsh change, though it came at the 11th hour that Mandava Stadium might not meet the requirements of CAF.
FC Platinum chose Barbourfields Stadium for their club continental competition matches following bizarre condemnation of Mandava Stadium.
Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, is 182km from FC Platinum’s home town of Zvishavane and, as such, the home side will be expected to attract a considerable number of supporters.
Though a huge number of Highlanders fans wear Pirates shirts during matches, FC Platinum should not expect to endure a hostile environment at Barbourfields Stadium as they are the country’s representatives in the CAF Champions League.
Barbourfields Stadium is home to Zimbabwe’s traditional giants Highlanders who share the same black and white colours as well as the crossbones salute with South African outfit Orlando Pirates.
Fans in Bulawayo and from all over the country have to come in their numbers to support FC Platinum who are flying the country’s flag high.
The Zimbabwean representatives are seeking to become the third team to progress to the CAF Champions mini-league phase.
That feat has only been achieved by fading giants Dynamos and CAPS United.
FC Platinum progressed to the group stage of the CAF Champions League following a 1-nil win over Madagascar’s CNaPS Sport at Mandava Stadium.
The Zimbabwean outfit got their goal courtesy of reigning Soccer Star-of-the-Year, Rodwell Chinyengetere to sail through on a 2-1 aggregate scoreline.
Lack of experience that was crudely exposed by Tanzania’s Young Africans and Angola’s Agosto in the previous years should now be water under the bridge as they go into this match well prepared.
FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza has to change approach and restore experienced players who have seen it all to avoid home humiliation.
At this level of competition, FC Platinum has roped in Soccer Star-of-the-Year finalist Godknows Murwira on an initial one-year contract from Ngezi Platinum Stars.
Murwira, who can play either as a defender or attacking midfielder, is a long time target of Mapeza.
He is expected to add depth to the Zvishavane outfit and a formidable attack featuring new signings Lameck Nhamo and Gift Mbweti.
The experience that Gift Bello has acquired with Dynamos in the African safari also adds up to an already formidable side.
First runner-up in the Soccer Star-of-the-Year 2018 and national team defender Kelvin Moyo’s experience will count tomorrow as the platinum miners take on Orlando Pirates at Barbourfields Stadium.
However, FC Platinum should not be pushovers as they will bank on the experienced Devon Chafa.
The talented Chafa took part in the all-conquering CAPS United of 2016 superb run in the tournament.
Big African clubs fell by the wayside as the Green Machine bulldozed its way.
With the nation, and all soccer fans at large, having pledged their full support for FC Platinum tomorrow, the local team should pile all the pressure on the visitors for a good result.
Fans are looking forward to some beautiful football and hope the country’s representatives have prepared so well that there will be no embarrassment at the end of the day.
It is rather very logical to support a countryman when he goes to a fight as he will be representing the nation.
Despite their dominance in the domestic league over the last two seasons, FC Platinum are yet to reach the lucrative group stages of the continent’s biggest inter-club competition.
FC Platinum’s last attempt ended in misery after being hammered 5-1 on aggregate by Angolan side Club Desportivo D’Agosto in the preliminary round.
Hopefully they will go beyond the group stage.
FC Platinum players have a golden opportunity to ink their names in the history books of Zimbabwe and African football if they manage to defeat their opponents and go beyond.
FC Platinum are in the same group with Guinea’s Horoya as well as CAF Champions League defending champions Esperance of Tunisia.
CAF Champions League trophy-holders Esperance of Tunisia face Horoya of Guinea in another encounter.
The message is simple here.
Local fans are going to create a carnival atmosphere while cheering the country’s flag bearers.
From all over, Zimbabwean football lovers will rally behind the country’s army.
Zimbabweans will wave a magic wand, singing ‘Go Pure Platinum Play’, tomorrow at Barbourfields Stadium against the South African outfit, Orlando Pirates.