The big kick-off

THE BIG KICK OFFCHICKEN Inn make their maiden CAF Champions League plunge at Barbourfields today and the big question is how do the Gamecocks stop Khama Billiat and his marauding Mamelodi Sundowns’ teammates?

The Zimbabwean forward is having a dream season at the Brazilians and returns home in Sundown’ colours for a showdown against a side whose defensive shortcomings were exposed during a pre-season tour of Zambia recently.

While Chicken Inn appear to be in for a tough time against the best side in South Africa, Harare City should fancy their chances when they host Indian Ocean islanders, AS Adema of Madagascar, in the first leg of their CAF Confederation Cup preliminary round tie at Rufaro today.

The game starts at 2pm.

Just like Chicken Inn, Harare City are also making their maiden appearance in the CAF inter-club competition and the Sunshine Boys have asked for the capital’s football fans to come in their thousands and rally behind their national cause.

Harare City have signed a number of high-profile players, including former Dynamos talisman Ronald “Rooney” Chitiyo, who reunites with coach Taurai Mangwiro, hoping that the gaffer can help him rediscover his touch.

Chitiyo, who was one of the best emerging players on the domestic scene two years ago, faded badly last year and struggled for consistency at Dynamos amid fears that he was being haunted by a failed move to South Africa.

The diminutive midfielder also had a poor show at the recent 2016 CHAN finals where the Warriors were blown away in the first round in Rwanda.

Chitiyo will be hoping that Mangwiro can work his magic again and he can sparkle into the player that he was two years ago and he will be under the spotlight this afternoon as he makes his debut for Harare City.

However, the bigger game is in Bulawayo where Chicken Inn, who ended Dynamos’ four-year dominance of the domestic Premiership, host high-flying Sundowns.

The South African Premier Soccer League is one of the richest leagues on the continent, but only Orlando Pirates have been crowned African champions and that was as far back as 1995. Last year, champions Kaizer Chiefs and Sundowns crashed out of the competition in the first round.

The South African PSL season has reached the halfway mark, but the league in Zimbabwe has not yet started.

“The game against Sundowns is going to be one hell of a fixture that will require maximum concentration, seeing they are halfway through their season and we’re just coming out of pre-season,” Chicken Inn coach Joey Antipas said.

“We are almost there and by the end of the week we would be 100 percent ready to play Sundowns. We have been worried by our defence but we have been working on that.

“The rate with which we were conceding goals in Zambia is very worrying. But we have been working very hard to correct that. I know we will not have it easy against Sundowns.

“They are an experienced team in African football and we have to be very strong when we face them. It is a very big game for us and we are looking for a positive result so that when we visit them it will be easy for us there.”

Sundowns star midfielder Teko Modise said they will make the most of their chances in this year’s competition.

“Yes we are ready for the CAF Champions League. We are professional footballers and it is our job to stay ready for all kinds of competition,” he said.

“We have to keep playing the way we do and capitalise on the chances that we get. It is always best to win at home and then finish what you started away. That will be the main strategy when playing the CAF (Champions League).”

Bulawayo is familiar territory for Sundowns and team manager Peter Ndlovu comes from this city while Cuthbert Malajila started to make a big impact in the game on the local scene at Highlanders in the City of Kings.

“Sundowns are in perhaps the best form the side has been in many years.

“They are starting to click well and the players are beginning to understand each other so well that short inter-passes happen almost instinctively, particularly the trio dubbed “Pretoria CBD” — Leonardo Castro, Khama Billiat and Keagan Dolly,” the club said on their website.

“And, with Teko Modise also peaking at the right time, the front line has become almost unstoppable.

“Billiat will be playing in his home country, and the fans who have been reading about his exploits for Sundowns in the PSL will be looking forward to seeing the nippy player in action.

“Zimbabwe might not be as hostile as some other countries on the continent — Sundowns were locked out of the stadium until an hour before kick-off by TP Mazembe — but the Zimbabwe champions have held stakeholder meetings to mobilise fans to pack the stadium and provide the 12th player support for their side.

“But the pre-season camps Sundowns had in the last three seasons – in Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe — have prepared the side mentally for the tough conditions on the continent. The experienced players — Modise, Hlompho Kekana, Dennis Onyango, Thabo Nthete, Wayne Arendse and Tebogo Langerman — will provide the mental support for the younger players in the team.” — Sports Reporter/SuperSport/AFP.


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