ZIFA hands FC Platinum fifth African Champions League shot

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By GOODWILL ZUNIDZA, Harare

The Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) made no new friends last week by electing perennial contestants FC Platinum to represent the country in the next African Champions League extravaganza.

Zifa’s decision comes after the Premier Soccer League (PSL) has failed to organize the domestic championship for two years now, chiefly due to the raging coronavirus outbreak.

It will be the fourth consecutive year and fifth time overall that the Zvishavane side are taking a shot at the continental competition where they have met with little luck despite accumulating unfair experience.

Local football administrators, coaches and commentators decried the move by the football mother body to cherry-pick FCP on the pretext that there had been no local competition to decide a representative, the same reasons they gave when entering the same team for the 2019 edition when the local league was still at midway stage.

The experts argue that Zifa should for a change consider registering winners of the ongoing Chibuku Super Cup for the elite creme de la creme tournament.

Ostensibly the African Champions League is for domestic title-winners of which FCP made a clean sweep of the Castle Lager PSL from 2017 to 20 having debuted the African safari in 2012 despite finishing second in the local championship.

“Since we have only had one football competition since 2019, which is the Chibuku Super Cup it makes sense that the winner should go on to participate in the African Champions League for 2021-2022,” pointed out Stanley “Fierce” Mudokwani, founding chairman of the Zifa Eastern Region.

The Chibuku Super Cup is primed to finish end of next month while the deadline for registering teams with the Confederation of African Football (Caf) is only set for 15th August.

Coach Rodwell Dhlakama, whose side Ngezi Platinum are favourites to bag the Chibuku Super Cup for the second time having posted a rare defeat of FCP in the current group matches, was diplomatic in his view of Zifa’s anomaly.

“I am sure the selection was based on who last won (the PSL title). Hand-picking a team of any choice would raise a lot of dust because some teams were also going to complain about the same,” suggested Dhlakama, who led Monomotapa to the lucrative group stage of the African Champions League in 2009.

“So, I am sure it was only fair to hide behind the FC Platinum scenario,” he quipped.

Most analysts have noted FCP’s apparent shortcomings at the grand stage where they reached the group stages twice but failed to win any game.

Football commentator Stanley Katsande believes it is now time Zifa cast their net wide.

“I think they should find a way to accommodate other teams given the limited success of FC Platinum,” noted Katsande.

He added: “They may be looking for a a team that can afford the costs of the safari but I still feel there are other players who might catch the eye of big teams overseas which is beneficial to Zimbabwe.”

It is however debatable that FCP can be deemed to be the only football team in Zimbabwe able to fund the continental campaign.

Zimbabwe football has recorded a significant rise in the number of corporate-backed teams in the last half-decade who are able to pull their wallet.

Besides the Zvishavane miners, Triangle, Chicken Inn, Harare City, Caps United and Ngezi Platinum have all plunged into the African safari in recent years and never sounded any financial regrets.

Still, Katsande opines that when it comes to expenses of participation the government should play ball as done in football-advanced countries such as Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and Tunisia.

“On the issue of costs government should step in and bail out teams on national duty. By affording other teams a chance we are widening our national team selection base.”

Caf in 2019 shifted the running schedule of both the Champions League and Confederation Cup from a January-December to a September-July timeline, with registration of contestants undertaken in August.

This led to Zifa settling for FCP to play in the first amended tournament on the basis of their winning the 2018 title.

The Norman Mapeza-coached side, however, made it water under the bridge by proceeding to clinch the 2019 league title as if to justify their selection.

But the emergence of strong domestic contenders has cast aspersions on their suitability to continue hoisting the national flag.

Zivanai “Zifa” Chiyangwa, the Zimbabwe Junior Football League chairman, however absolved the football federation of any blame in the Champions League fiasco.

“It’s PSL’s mandate to decide with their teams and give Zifa the names of teams to participate after consultations,” Chiyangwa pointed out.

Whether PSL did in fact consult is now anybody’s guess.

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