Zimbabwe: Countdown to Domestic Football Return . . . Dembare Still Carry Badge of Honour

Senior Sports Editor

THEY might have disappeared from the continental radar but 40 years after their first battle in the trenches of CAF's inter-club football, Dynamos still carry a badge of honour.

The Glamour Boys have not played in the CAF Champions League since a first round elimination at the hands of AS Vita of the DRC, in 2014.

And, during their seven-year period in the wilderness, their domestic dominance has also been challenged.

They are also yet to win a league championship, in that period, to add to their record 21 titles.

It's the second longest barren run without a league championship for DeMbare after the 10-year period without a title, between 1997 and 2007.

While the Glamour Boys have been struggling of late, and are now barely recognisable as the dominant beast they used to be during their glory years, they still remain one of the region's premier clubs in CAF's flagship inter-club tournament.

Incredibly, Dynamos have even done better than Kaizer Chiefs when it comes to the Champions League.

The Amakhosi are the Glamour Boys of South African football, with so much riches they were named the second most valuable African football club, in a survey this year with a market value of about US$23 million.

Only record African champions, Al Ahly, are ranked higher than Chiefs according to the survey, with the Egyptian powerhouse who were named by CAF as the Club of the Century, with a market value of about US$28 million.

Another Egyptian side, Pyramids, who have a market value of about US$22 million, have also never reached the final of the CAF Champions League.

Chiefs reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, for the first time in their history, in the current campaign.

They have one foot, in the semi-finals, after a 4-0 lead, from the first leg, over Tanzania's Simba SC.

Dynamos remain just one of four Southern African clubs to have enjoyed a final crack, at winning the biggest prize in club football on the continent, in the 57 years of this competition.

South African heavyweight clubs -- Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns -- and Zambia's most successful club, Nkana FC, are the only other teams, from the region, to feature in the final.

The Zambian club, who used to be known as Nkana Red Devils, reached the final when the tournament was still known as the African Champions Cup, in 1990, and took on Algerian powerhouse JS Kabylie.

After losing the first leg 0-1, in Algeria, they won by the same scoreline, at the Independence Stadium in Lusaka, to force a penalty shoot-out.

However, the Zambians faltered, in the lottery, while the Algerians were perfect, with the North Africans winning 5-3, to be crowned champions.

In the 24 years, since this tournament was rebranded into the CAF Champions League, Dynamos are just one of three Southern African clubs, to reach the final.

Pirates and Sundowns are the only other two teams.

Pirates were the first Southern African side to be crowned champions of Africa, when they beat ASEC Mimosas of Cote d'Ivoire 3-2 on aggregate, in the final, in 1995. The Buccaneers defied expectations, including a 2-2 home draw, in the first leg of the final, to beat their West African opponents 1-0 in their backyard, at the Stade Felix Houphouet Boigny, in Abidjan.

Jerry "Legs of Thunder" Sikhosana scored the priceless goal.

Some analysts believe the Glamour Boys of that campaign, in '95, were good enough to have either reached the final or won the tournament.

However, after taking a 1-0 lead from Kampala, in the first leg of their quarter-final against Express of Uganda, they self-destructed at home, losing the second leg 1-2 at the National Sports Stadium, to crash out on the away goals rule.

However, three years later, DeMbare reached the final and, just like Pirates before them, had to take on ASEC Mimosas. A goalless draw in Harare meant they were on the back foot, with the Ivorians, for the second time in three years, being given the privilege of hosting the crucial second leg, in their backyard.

This time, after what had happened against Pirates, they ensured all the mountains were moved, including resorting to pre-match violence which sent influential DeMbare skipper, Memory Mucherahowa, to hospital, to ensure lightning would not strike twice.

They won the reverse fixture 4-2.

Three years later Sundowns added their name to the Southern African clubs, to reach the Champions League final. And, after a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Pretoria against Al Ahly, they were outplayed in Cairo, losing the match 0-3, for a 1-4 aggregate loss.

In 2013, Pirates were back in the final of the Champions League but a 1-3 aggregate defeat, at the hands of Al Ahly, meant there was no repeat of their '95 Cinderella tale.

Three years later, Sundowns, for the second time, made it into the Champions League final and, this time, they got it right, beating Zamalek 3-1 on aggregate.

While Congolese sides, TP Mazembe and AS Vita have reached the final of the tournament, and even won it, they are considered to be from Central Africa, in football terms, rather than Southern Africa.

To illustrate how difficult it is, to reach the final of the Champions League, only 45 clubs on the continent, including Dynamos, have played in the final of the tournament.

Only 18 countries, including Zimbabwe, have produced a team which has played in the Champions League final and, from that list, only a dozen countries have produced a winning club.

Only 11 countries have seen their clubs win the tournament, more than once, and only six nations - Cameroon (5), Algeria (5), Morocco (6), DRC (6), Tunisia (6) and Egypt (15) -- have celebrated success stories on more than four occasions.

For Dynamos, who are set to return to domestic football duties at the weekend, after more than a year without kicking football, this is a special year.

It marks the 40th anniversary of the year they started their Champions League campaign with a 6-1 aggregate thrashing of Linare of Lesotho, in 1981.

It even got better with a 5-1 comprehensive defeat of Shooting Stars, of Nigeria, in the second round.

However, they were well beaten, in the quarter-final, losing 0-3 to eventual champions JS Kabylie, in Algeria and being held to a 2-2 draw in Harare.

They can argue it took the best team, on the continent, to stop them, at a time when local football standards were quite high.

This was illustrated by CAPS United's 8-1 hammering Saint Michael of Madagascar, in the first leg of their Cup Winners' Cup first round tie, in 1981.

The Indian Ocean islanders withdrew from the tournament after that massacre.

However, the Green Machine's journey ended in the quarter-finals when they lost 1-3, on penalties, to eventual winners, Stationery Stores of Nigeria.

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