By Sheldon Hakata
THE 2018 Chibuku Super Cup winners Triangle United FC will have a feel of continental football when they go to Central Africa for their maiden appearance in the CAF Confederation Cup against little known Rukinzo FC of Burundi on Sunday.
Despite winning a number of trophies and being one of the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League (PSL) consistent teams, Triangle will enter the pitch armed with the knowledge that experience counts the most in continental tournaments.
With veteran gaffer Taurai Mangwiro at the helm, the ‘Sugar Sugar Boys’, as Triangle are affectionately known, will go into the match knowing a draw will enhance their chances of progressing to the next stage.
The soft-spoken coach has been in the trenches for some time now, having been mercurial mentor Norman Mapeza’s deputy in 2009 in the African Champions League with the now defunct Monomotapa FC.
His Confederation Cup debut came in 2016 with Harare City.
Mangwiro will be the Lowveld premiership side’s club fifth coach since the late Gishon Ntini led them into the topflight in 2012.
Their premiership journey began on November 17 2012, when Triangle beat Gaza Gunners 1-0 to clinch the Eastern Region Division One title.
Ntini assembled a group of premiership ‘rejects’ who included Pascal Manhanga, Tofirei Sambo, David Sengu, William Mapfumo, Leo Kurauzvione, Nhamo Lameck, Muchineripi Muneri, Richard Kawondera and Tawanda Muyendi, the season’s top goal scorer who had banged 25 goals, captained by Tineyi Meda.
Exactly seven years later, Triangle, still among the local football big boys, feature in their maiden continental football journey in a sea of hope.
The last time a Zimbabwean team made an impact in the Confederation Cup was in 1995 when flamboyant outfit Blackpool FC, popularly known as ‘Ndochi’, reached the quarter finals in their debut season.
By winning the Chibuku Super Cup, Triangle notched their second major trophy after the NetOne One-Wallet Cup in 2014 when they beat Dynamos at the National Sports Stadium.
There are, however, serious challenges when it comes to match venues, with CAF putting stringent requirements for their set standards on stadiums.
Already, those demands by CAF have affected FC Platinum.
Last season, FC Platinum fans could not watch their team play at Mandava Stadium, while this year, it is the turn of the small community of Triangle which has been deprived of an opportunity to watch their beloved team play at home, as Gibbo Stadium is deemed unfit to host matches of such magnitude by CAF.
As such, Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo is the alternative for the return leg, a week later.
CAF runs two African safari tournaments – the African Champions League and the Confederation Cup.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League replaced the previous pan-African competition, the African Cup of Club Champions.
CAF runs this annual continental club football competition with top sides from Africa’s football leagues being invited to participate.
The competition is equivalent to the much glorified UEFA Champions League.
CAF created a league stage in the tournament and changed the name to the CAF Champions League.
In 2016, Total secured an eight-year sponsorship package deal from CAF to support 10 of its principal competitions that include the Africa Cup of Nations, renamed Total Africa Cup of Nations.
The Champions League, however, has operated as a knockout competition that has a final group stage, with each tie being played over two legs.
The group phase was expanded from eight to 16 with the mini-leagues up from two to four teams.
At the end of the league stage, the top two teams from each group meet in the semi-finals while winners go on to contest in the finals.
The Champions League is the richest club competition in Africa.
Regional statistics regarding club performance leaves the Northern Region boasting 31 titles, 12 for Central Africa, 10 West Africa and Sundowns’ glory of two silverware placing Southern African region into the matrix as well.
However, Tunisian club, ES Tunis, were 2019 winners.
As winners, they gain direct entry into the group phase of the current edition, a decision which is a one-off move only applying to the 2018 Champions League as a measure to alleviate fixture congestion.
These are changes to the timing of the annual continental club competitions ending five decades of a February start, culminating in an end-of-year finish.
The switch to the current edition marks the change in dates as per CAF decision after overwhelming suggestion at the previous year’s CAF symposium in Rabat.
The Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup competition will now be staged from August 2019 to May 2020.
The major African leagues and European Cup competitions follow the same routine.
CAF would stick to the new standardisation of the dates and kick-off times for the two competitions introduced this year.
Champions League matches are reserved for Fridays and Saturdays only, while mid-week matches may only be scheduled for Tuesdays.
Confederation Cup matches can only be played on Sundays and Wednesdays in contrast to the Champions League schedule, making sure there is no overlap between the two competitions.
The CAF Confederation Cup platform presents an opportunity to sell the sponsors’ brand across Africa.
FC Platinum, boosted by the return of marauding attacking midfielder Rodwell Chinyengetere, start their CAF Champions League campaign in the preliminary round against Callisto Pasuwa-coached Malawian club, Nyasa Big Bullets.