Makomborero Mutimukulu in PRETORIA, South Africa—
ZIMBABWEAN soccer champions Chicken Inn return home today with their reputation enhanced and the country’s football flag flying high, clean and proud after a Caf Champions League preliminary round, second leg performance that captured the attention of the continent. Their hearts are aching but coach Joey “Mafero” Antipas has challenged his team to use the controversial manner in which they fell to a 2-0 defeat at the Lucas Moripe Stadium here on Saturday night to mount a successful defence of their Castle Lager Premier Soccer League crown.
Having gone through the post-match formalities, Antipas walked into a dressing room that was threatening to explode in anger as well as drown in tears after a Wayne Arendse header and a controversial Katlego Mashego injury-time penalty won it for Mamelodi Sun- downs. The South African side progress 2-1 on aggregate while the Gamecocks exit Africa’s premier club competition vowing to come back stronger and much wiser next year.
“Naturally the boys were shattered in that dressing room, the manner in which we were defeated is difficult to swallow,” said Antipas after Saturday’s post-match review meeting. “I have watched replays of that incident and still maintain that penalty was dodgy. However, there is nothing we can do about it now, we have to look ahead with hope.
“When I entered the dressing room I walked up to every player and made each one of them vow that we will be coming back to the Caf Champions League next year. “I have urged them to use this pain as motivation to defend our league title so that we earn the right to rub our shoulders with some of the best clubs on the continent again.
“I’ll give the boys hundred percent for the big effort that they put in. For us to try and get a result we had to put in a massive performance, which they did. “But I thought the penalty was a bit dodgy . . . but that’s the nature of the game. “I wish Sundowns all the best in their quest for the African Champions League, they played brilliantly. Sundowns, as we all know, are a brilliant side.”
Antipas felt his side lost concentration in the final few minutes, and Sundowns took advantage. “Especially the last 10, 15 minutes we were running out of steam, lost a bit of concentration, Khama (Billiat) the dangerman . . . we gave Khama too much room in the last 10 minutes and we were punished.
“But all in all, a great performance from my boys.” For the last-minute penalty incident, Malagasy referee Pierre Jean Eric Andrivoavonjy pointed to the spot after Passmore Bernard had brought down a charging Billiat a minute into added time.
Television replays show that contact was made made just outside the box. However, the theme of this tale cannot be about Sundowns getting into the next round courtesy of Arendse’s 34th minute header and a controversial Mashego penalty conversion.
Certainly it has to be about how an unfancied Zimbabwean team, whose annual budget is not enough to cater for a month’s needs at Chloorkop, the Sundowns headquarters, took their much fancied opponents to the wire.
Despite falling 1-0 in the first leg at Barbourfields, the hosts were expected to be too much for the Gamecocks as they had the famed “CBD” of Leonardo Castro, Khama Billiat and Keegan Dolly all in the mix. However, Chicken Inn made a huge statement, in a country everything Zimbabwean is looked down upon, with a solid show that left Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane doling out the kudos.
As the former Bafana Bafana mentor exchanged a post-match handshake with Antipas he said: “You have a good team my brother, you are worthy to be called the champions of Zimbabwe. Good luck with defending your title.”
And Mosimane wasn’t done yet, he stepped in front of the rolling SuperSport cameras to shower more praises on Chicken Inn. “These are not fishermen from an island, this is serious football and they gave us a hard time,” he conceded. Chicken Inn skipper Danny Phiri and Tafadzwa Kutinyu were solid in the middle of the park while the pace and trickery of Mitchell Katsvairo and Edmore Chirambadare troubled too slow Sundowns defence.
Goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze stood tall, made some crucial saves and was so close to getting a hand to Kashego’s penalty he broke down into tears when the ball went in. In a team that cannot play well all round and cannot be blamed for lack of effort with Physiwell Madhazi, signed from Dongo Sawmill this off-season, was the weaker link.
He was far from being awful but the pace of the game exposed Madhazi’s lack of experience and Antipas duly sparred him further torment when he pulled the midfielder out for Clemence Matawu at half-time.
“Madhazi was doing well in the tracking of (Tebogo) Langerman but then we thought that if we bring in a ball player like Matawu we would get more going forward and it worked because we created some good chances,” said Antipas in revealing the reasoning behind the half-time switch.
As they return home Chicken Inn may take a minute to wonder about what could have been. What if Katsvairo’s stinger had not cannoned off the left upright post in the dying minutes of the first half? What if Obadiah Tarumbwa, a veteran who is worth every cent paid for a year’s loan deal, had managed to get enough weight on that ball as he sort to chip it over Dennis Onyango?
What if Bernard had not slid in on Billiat? Would the Warriors forward gone on to score with Chipezeze in that fine form? So many questions, so few answers.
Take a bow Chicken Inn, take a bow.
You made Zimbabwe proud.