11 December 2012

Zimbabwe/Egypt: Brace for Armageddon

DYNAMOS will have to negotiate past a minefield and clear explosive hurdles, including one likely to be erected by record Champions League winners Al Ahly of Egypt, for the Glamour Boys to return to the group stages of Africa's premier inter-club tournament next year.

The Harare giants are the only Zimbabwean club that will feature in the Caf inter-club tournaments next year and will start from the bottom of the pit following their relegation into the preliminary rounds.

The latest draw by Caf held on Sunday also shows that Zimbabwe have lost their special status of having two representatives in both the Champions League and Confederation Cup after a poor showing by local clubs in recent years.

Dynamos have targeted a good showing on the continent next season after poor campaigns in the past two years in which they fell at the first hurdle last season and were humiliated in the second round by Esperance this year.

But they will need to move mountains to reach the group stages of the tournament with three tough North African teams standing in their way.

DeMbare were handed a sweetener, with a date against Lesotho Correctional Services in the preliminary round, but it's what happens after that, which matters.

For the tough draw put them on a possible collision course with record champions Al Ahly of Egypt in the final hurdle for the group stage qualifiers.

The Zimbabwean champions, who are coming from a fruitful domestic season in which they retained the League and Cup double, will begin their campaign in the preliminary round tie against Lesotho Correctional Services.

And, if they manage to sail through, as is largely expected, DeMbare will take their campaign to North Africa where they are scheduled to face either Al Ittihad of Libya or Tunisia's Club Athletique Bizertin between March and April before a possible date with the holders Al Ahly.

The Egyptian giants, who are currently representing Africa well at the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan, will start the defence of their title in the first round, with a date against winners between lightweights St Mitchel (Seychelles) and Kenya champions Tusker.

Despite the intimidating presence of Al Ahly in their flight path, Dynamos coach Callisto Pasuwa and his men will be looking for a good run and they begin their campaign in the preliminary round against Lesotho Correctional Services over the weekend of 15-17 February 2013.

Dynamos will begin at home in the first leg and they will then travel to Lesotho for the return match in two weeks' time.

Veteran Dynamos midfielder, Murape Murape, yesterday said the Glamour Boys needed to start preparing seriously for the tournament if they hope to make an impression.

The Zimbabwean champions, who finished runners-up in 1998 and then reached the semi-finals in 2008, are still trying to lay the groundwork for their sixth onslaught in the modern era of the Champions League competition.

Murape conceded that they face a tough challenge and challenged the club's leadership to arrange "meaningful" preparations for the side.

"I think it's a tough draw. We all know that Al Ahly as defending champions are a good team. That they are also record winners of this tournament speaks volumes of who they are in African football," said Murape.

"But we have to accept the draw as it is because these are the teams that we have to face when playing at this stage.

"We don't need to be afraid of anyone and at the same time we should not make the mistake of underrating the other teams like Lesotho Correctional Services.

"All teams should be treated with respect because they earned the right to be the competition. It's not by chance."

The Glamour Boys, who are perennial campaigners in the tournament, were not given a bye this year owing to the overall poor performance of teams from this country, in recent years and their stunning dip in form on the continent.

DeMbare had last played at the preliminary stage in 2008. They were returning on the continental stage following a 10-year hiatus and beat Royal Leopards of Swaziland 3-0 on aggregate as they went all the way to reach the semi-finals of the prestigious competition.

But their form appear to have taken a dip as DeMbare have failed to make it to the group stages in their previous two attempts in 2011 and 2012 under Lloyd Mutasa and Callisto Pasuwa, losing points on the Caf ranking system.

Their situation has not been helped by the poor showing of their compatriots in the inter-club competitions, which has seen Zimbabwe drop from being the ninth ranked association last year to 11th.

The Harare giants were not seeded this year and they missed the bye as only the top eight teams were given free passage to the first round.

The teams that will start in the first round include Esperance (Tunisia), Al Ahly (Egypt),TP Mazembe (DRC), El Merrikh (Sudan), Djoliba (Mali),Stade Malien (Mali), Entente Sétif (Algeria) and Edward Sadomba's Al Hilal.

DeMbare had a disappointing show in the 2012 edition in which they suffered a humiliating 7-1 second round aggregate defeat at the hands of Esperance. They again failed to make it even to the group stage of the second-tier Confederation Cup group stage after losing to Interclube of Angola.

However, Murape sees hope in thorough preparation.

"The key is to have a good preparation since we all agreed that we are not going there to make the numbers. If we prepare well there are big chances we will also do well.

"But if we do it the way we treated the previous campaign, then it could be difficult again for us to match the big teams of Africa. "So we need meaningful friendly games with big teams from the region that are also involved in these Caf competitions to get the right exposure and help shake off stage fright," said Murape. South African champions Orlando Pirates, who had a disappointing outing last year.

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