Eddie Chikamhi Sports Reporter
THEY may not have the kind of riches to buy the best talent there is, not to fly first class but modest Chicken Inn on Saturday underlined that they are worthy of being Zimbabwean soccer kings with a workmanlike show that earned them victory over fancied Mamelodi Sundowns.
The South African Premiership giants arrived in Bulawayo with a proud unbeaten 19-match run that has seen them sit comfortably at the top of the ABSA log table.
The Brazilians also boasted high-profile players and big money earners that Chicken Inn on paper appeared nothing but as a mismatch.
But on a day when even Dynamos and Highlanders fans in Bulawayo abandoned their club affiliation and put the nation first with a patriotic show of support, Chicken Inn defied all the odds staked against them to take the advantage with a slender 1-0 triumph over Sundowns at Barbourfields.
Now their coach Joey Antipas believes their win over Mamelodi Sundowns was the positive start they had wanted in their maiden campaign of the Champions League.
Antipas, however, remains cautious and feels they still have a mountain to climb against the Supa Disk giants in the return leg in Pretoria in two weeks time.
Despite Antipas seeking to avoid being carried away, there is no doubting that Chicken Inn backed a vociferous crowd showed character and potential to go further in the competition even with a very modest budget.
The Gamecocks gained a slight advantage when Michelle Katsvairo gave them a 1-0 win to ensure that Zimbabwe will carry the bragging rights in the football rivalries between the two countries ahead of the next clash.
Very few had given the Gamecocks a chance against the super-rich Supa Diski outfit who are currently enjoying good form back home but Antipas demonstrated why he is rated as one of the best coaches in Zimbabwe when he plotted the downfall of the Soweto giants in only his first competitive match of the year.
Sundowns are well into their season compared to the Zimbabweans who will start in two months’ time.
The Brazilians had not lost in their last 19 matches in all competitions before coming to Bulawayo and were always odds-on favourites given their experience with the continental game too.
Chicken Inn are playing in the Champions League for the first time and are looking at least to go past the preliminary round stage.
Antipas yesterday said they will not get carried away as they anticipate a more difficult assignment in South Africa.
“I would want to give credit to the boys and if we had scored another goal or two we could be saying we can certainly do it. We had the chances to score but we couldn’t use them.
“The win, though, was still good and the fact that we didn’t concede at home. So we will always be on the lookout in the return leg which I am sure will be tough for us because Sundowns will definitely come out firing after losing this first leg.
“But if we can snatch an away goal there is still a great chance for us. We will have to fight hard,” said Antipas.
Chicken Inn demonstrated they were ready for the match when they employed a game plan which suffocated the visitors of space to play their usual game.
The former Warriors assistant coach said they also had good chances to get a comfortable win but their seasoned forward Obidiah Tarumbwa, Katsvairo and Edmore Chirambadare fluffed some good scoring opportunities.
Chicken Inn still managed to defend their first half strike and kept at bay the Sundowns’ attacking pair of Keagan Dolly and Leonardo Castro.
With Sundowns’ man of the moment and deadly Zimbabwean winger Khama Billiat having been withdrawn from the line-up on the last minute following a hamstring problem it was left to Dolly and Castro to try and breach goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze’s goal.
Castro, Billiat and Dolly have formed an attacking axis known as “CBD” in South Africa and they had been tipped to make the difference on Saturday but fate had the last say.
Zimbabwean forward Cuthbert Malajila was introduced as 46th minute substitute but his countrymen also kept him under lock and key.
The Chicken Inn defence featured Passmore Bernard, Devine Lunga, Moses Jackson and Lawrence Mhlanga while Warriors international and skipper Danny Phiri recovered in time to help steady the ship.
Antipas said they were not intimidated by the “CBD” as they had a game plan in place to control their highly-rated opponents.
The former Motor Action coach also said home support was crucial as Zimbabweans from all backgrounds united on Saturday in support of the Gamecocks.
“Khama Billiat is probably one of the best players in South Africa at the moment. It was a plus for us that he didn’t play but we he had also put plans in place for him and, I am sure even if he had played, we were still going to keep him out,” said Antipas.
“I also want to give the thumbs up to the 12th man, the supporters. I am grateful for what they did because we had supporters from Highlanders, Dynamos, CAPS United and from other teams all rallying behind us. They made it look a really national cause. It wasn’t a Chicken Inn thing. We are hoping that we will have the same kind of support when we travel for the return leg.”
The Gamecocks will rest today and then regroup tomorrow to resume preparations for the South Africa trip. Antipas said he was already looking forward to the second leg and is hoping to have all his players available after getting Phiri from injury on the eleventh hour while veteran midfielder Clemence Matawu could not make it.
“Danny is a stabiliser in the team. He inspires his teammates to give their all and it’s always good to have him.
He is a key figure for us and we are also hoping that Clemence Matawu will be available for the second leg in South Africa. He has been affected by injury but is also a key player. Definitely he is not as young as he was years back but you cannot doubt his talent,” said Antipas.