11 December 2012

Zimbabwe: It Feels Like '81 Again

DYNAMOS will take a trip down memory lane, to where their African Champions League adventure started three decades ago, when the Glamour Boys battle for redemption next year to erase the horror that defined their miserable campaign this season.

Thirty one years after DeMbare marked their entrance into the continent's premier inter-club competition, with a home tie against Linare of Lesotho, they have to do it all over again as they search for a way back into the light after being humiliated in Tunisia this year.

After their worst campaign in Champions League history, which ended in a 1-7 aggregate whipping at the hands of eventual losing finalists Esperance, the Glamour Boys might feel they needed to go back to school to find the magic that turned them into a Super Brand in this tournament.

Already, they have been relegated from the elite teams that used to be seeded and, for the first time since they reached the final of the Champions League in '98, DeMbare will start from the preliminary round in the Champions League this season.

And the football gods have given them a trip down memory lane, as if to suggest that the Glamour Boys need to be reminded of where they started this journey from to help them arrest the current slide, with a date against a team from Lesotho.

Dynamos were drawn to meet Lesotho Correctional Services in the preliminary round of the Champions League next year and should they win that one, as is widely expected, they will face either Club Athletique Bizertin of Tunisia or Ettihad of Libya in the first round.

Then, in the event they clear that hurdle, the Glamour Boys will certainly battle record African champions Al Ahly of Egypt, the continent's most decorated football club who on Sunday qualified for the semi-finals of the Fifa Club World Cup.

The Cairo giants were one of the eight clubs seeded by Caf which will not play in the preliminary rounds - Stade Malian, Djoliba (both from Mali), Al Hilal, Al Merreikh (both from Sudan), Esperance (Tunisia), ES Setif (Algeria) and TP Mazembe (DRC).

It means that, for the second year running, DeMbare have to beat the defending African champions for them to reach the group phase of the tournament.

This year, the Harare giants met Esperance in the second round and were blown away in the first leg in Tunis, with a comprehensive 0-6 whipping, their worst defeat on the continent, turning the return leg in Harare into a mere formality.

Just as was the case in '81, when they started their campaign with a home date against Linare, DeMbare will be at home first when they host Lesotho Correctional Services in the first leg of their preliminary round clash.

The return leg will be in Maseru.

Should DeMbare sail through, they will be away in the first leg of their scheduled first round tie against either CA Bizertin/Ettihad while hosting the reverse fixture in Harare.

If they clear that hurdle, Dynamos will be at home first, in their likely showdown against Al Ahly, with the second leg in Cairo.

Back in '81, DeMbare hammered Linare 5-0 at Rufaro and the return leg in Maseru, which ended in a 1-1 draw, was a mere formality.

Times have changed now and although Dynamos will be favourites to beat Lesotho Correctional Services, who will only be playing in their second Champions League campaign, it's unlikely to be a one-sided blowout like was the case 31 years ago against opposition from that country.

Lesotho Correctional Services featured in their maiden Champions League this year and were beaten 0-3 by Uganda Revenue Authority in the first leg of their preliminary round tie in Kampala before the second leg in Maseru ended in a goalless draw.

They have won six league titles, all coming after the turn of the millennium, including two when they were still known as Lesotho Prison Services in 2000 and 2002.

They have been the dominant force in their domestic league of late, winning league titles in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012.

The club's rise into a force in their country coincided with the arrival of the sponsorship package of Econet Telecom Lesotho, who bankrolled the top-flight league in that country under their Buddie brand from 2002 to 2009 before Vodacom took over.

The Glamour Boys should be powerful enough to win against such lowly opposition but tougher battles loom from there onwards with North African opposition lying in ambush.

Dynamos seem to attract North African opposition these days and, should they beat Lesotho, it means they would be playing teams from that part of the continent for the third straight year before the group phase of the tournament.

Last year, DeMbare battled MC Alger of Algiers in the first round and, after winning the home leg 4-1 at Rufaro, crumbled in the second leg, amid controversial officiating, and lost 0-3 to bow out on goal difference.

This year, the Glamour Boys were no match for Esperance, after having dumped Liga Muculmana of Mozambique in the first round, losing 1-7 on aggregate.

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