Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Acting Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE’S Total Caf Champions League representatives FC Platinum were yesterday bullish and unfazed by their Group B opponents, declaring that a quarter-final berth was possible.
The mini league phase draw was conducted in Cairo, Egypt, on Wednesday evening and the two-times Zimbabwean champions were drawn alongside Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, Al Ahly of Egypt and Al Hilal of Sudan respectively.
Pure Platinum Play, who had a winless run in the last Champions League campaign under Norman Mapeza where they managed only two draws against South African giants Orlando Pirates, get their campaign underway with an away trip to Sudanese champions Al Hilal at the end of next month.
The hugely supported North East of Africa based side has 15 domestic league titles and have made 33 Champions League appearances, reaching semifinal stages a number of times with the last being in 2015. However, they were last in the group stages of the tournament in 2017. Coached by former Senegalese international Lamine Ndiaye, Al Hilal were knocked out in the first round of the competition in 2018 and at the previous campaign, the 2018-19 when Caf changed the season format of the competition.
FC Platinum are however aware of the financial implications of the draw which might see them even connecting flights from Dubai or Italy.
“Tough opponents, long trips involved and costly. We need all strengths. Bettering our previous group performance key objective. Quarterfinals very achievable,” club chairman Evans Mthombeni wrote on his Whatsapp status soon after the draw.
After the opening round fixture, Tunisian giants and 2007 Caf Champions League winners Etoile du Sahel will come to Barbourfields Stadium on the weekend of December 6-7.
After the Christmas break, FC Platinum will be on the plane to face record eight times Caf Champions League winners Al Ahly of Egypt on the weekend of December 27-28.
There will be a break due to the Chan finals in Cameroon set for January and early February before the games resume with Al Ahly returning to Emagumeni where they were held nil apiece by Highlanders in the 2007 version of the competition before winning the reverse fixture 2-0 to dump the Bulawayo giants out of the competition. The match, likely to see a bumper crowd, will be played on the weekend of February 14-15.
“It’s a tough one yes but kuzadlalwa, let the games start,” said FC Platinum coach Lizwe Sweswe who also agreed with his chairman that a berth in the knockout stages of the competition was not a far fetched idea.
FC Platinum Caf Champions League fixtures
Al Hilal (Sudan) v FC Platinum (29-30 November 2019), FC Platinum v Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia)( 06-07 December 2019), Al Ahly SC (Egypt) v FC Platinum (27-28 December 2019), FC Platinum v Al Ahly SC (14-15 February 2020), FC Platinum v Al Hilal (21-22 February 2020), Etoile du Sahel v FC Platinum (06-07 March 2020)