FC Platinum to know Champions League opponents

HARARE - Zimbabwe soccer champions FC Platinum will today know the identity of their opponents in the African Champions League when the Confederation of African Football conducts the draw in Cairo, Egypt.

FC Platinum will be the country’s sole representatives in Africa after they were crowned Castle Lager Premiership champions for the year 2017 while Harare City who were due to take part in the Confederation Cup after lifting the Chibuku Super Cup pulled out of the tournament.

Norman Mapeza’s side is currently finalising their squad for the African safari and should be fancying their chances after Caf introduced four groups to the tournament beginning this year which will clubs playing a maximum of two rounds to make it into the lucrative group stages.

Norman Mapeza

FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza

Mapeza has since revealed his willingness to reach the group stages of the tournament a feat that was achieved by last year’s champions CAPS United. Lloyd Chitembwe’s charges caught the eye in Africa with some captivating performances.

Makepekepe surprised many including themselves as they dumped Mazembe on away goals rule to reach the group stage of the African Champions League for the first time in the club history.

They were then drawn in a tough Group B that also included Egyptian giants Zamelek, Libya’s Al-Ahli Tripoli and Algerian side USM Alger. They however, finished the competition bottom of the group with six points following two home wins against Zamalek and USM Alger.

Their campaign was heavily dented by back-to-back 4-1 and 4-2 defeats to Libya’s Al-Ahli Tripoli.

Speaking ahead of the draw Mapeza said they are not expecting an easy draw.

“You cannot expect an easy draw at this level of competition. We should be prepared with any outcome. Our only homework will be to prepare well for the tournament. Anything is possible,” Mapeza said to the Daily News.

FC Platinum is likely to face a tough struggle in their bid to make it to the group stages as many of the usual suspects return to the fray, including record eight-time winners Al Ahly of Egypt, who were upset in this year’s final by Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.

Confederation Cup holders TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will also be highly fancied along with compatriots AS Vita Club, who won their only title in 1973, but were runners-up just three years ago.

The North African challenge also includes the Algerian duo of Mouloudia Alger (winners in 1976) and Entente Setif (1988, 2014) and the perennial Tunisian contenders Esperance (1994, 2011).

South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns, who were 2016 winners and knocked out in this year’s quarter-finals by Wydad on penalties, are back for a fourth successive year and there is a return for ASEC Abidjan of the Ivory Coast, whose sole victory in the continent’s top club competition came in 1998.

Caf have cut the two-leg qualifying phase from three rounds to two and doubled the number of qualifiers for the mini-leagues from eight to 16.

Clubs eliminated at the last-32 stage of qualifying get a second shot at African glory by dropping to the Confederation Cup, which star-studded Mazembe won this season.