Makomborero Mutimukulu in PRETORIA, South Africa
FOR Joey “Mafero” Antipas tonight’s CAF Champions League preliminary round, second leg tie against Mamelodi Sundowns is more like a game of chess. Every move will be calculated, glamour will be sacrificed for graft, artistry for artisanship.
The Chicken Inn gaffer appreciates, very well, that he doesn’t have the arsenal to take on Sundowns pound for pound.
His men will have to park the bus and work twice as much for half as much if they are to stand a chance of knocking out the hosts from Africa’s premier club competition.
“We have to be smart about it, very smart,” said Antipas as he looked ahead to tonight’s clash at the Lucas Moripe Stadium while seating by the Garden Court Hotel poolside yesterday afternoon.
There was a slight breeze blowing and the man who led the Gamecocks to their maiden league title last year was as relaxed as they come, cigarette in hand.
The tie kicks off at 8:15pm and is live on Supersport 9.
Chicken Inn will take to the park with a 1-0 advantage after stunning the Brazilians in the first leg at Barbourfields two weeks ago.
Mitchell Katsvairo scored the goal that made the difference and the lively forward is available for selection again tonight.
Katsvairo is an epitome of confidence, telling teammates that his long- range first leg strike was no fluke.
Team banter has it that the forward just hit the ball and closed his eyes, hoping for the best.
However, Katsvairo insists he knew exactly what he was doing when he unleashed a swerving shot that beat Wayne Sandilands and ended Sundowns’ 20-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
“If you guys think that was a mistake wait until I do it again here in South Africa. If you see such a goal on television you say the player who scored it is bad news but when one of your own does it you say it was a mistake. Come on.
“You are Doubting Thomases, a bunch of unbelievers. But I am not worried because deep down in your hearts you know what I can do,” boasted the forward whose career has been given a kiss of life by Antipas after a painful jettisoning by FC Platinum.
More of the same is what Antipas is demanding from his lads.
In the first leg the Zimbabwean champions ceded possession to Pitso Mosimane’s men, sat back and played on the counter but still managed to come out victorious.
If it works don’t fix it, Antipas reckons.
“We are not going to be naïve about it. No, not at all,” he said.
“If you look at our training sessions since the day we got here the emphasis has been on maintaining our shape, pressing as a group and shooting from outside the box.
“We know that Sundowns will come at us from the word go but we are confident . . .a positive result is not beyond us.”
Having gone through recordings of Sundowns’ last eight matches, including the clash at BF, the Chicken Inn technical team has flagged out the hosts’ penetrative runs from the midfield.
The offensive players – Edmore Chirambadare, Obadiah Tarumbwa and Clemence Matawu – have been tasked with putting in some defensive shifts.
Skipper Danny “Deco” Phiri and the industrious Tafadzwa Kutinyu have been instructed to resist the urge to venture upfront unless “really, really necessary”.
Phiri, a key member of the Warriors, has been in such battles before and the reigning Soccer Star of the Year is relishing the prospect of doing the business against a team that has been brutalising its Absa Premiership compatriots.
“As a player these are the type of matches you live for,” he said.
“It’s a big game and we are all fired up. If you look at the way the media here has been reporting on this game and even what the ordinary South African football fan is saying it’s clear that they are ruling us out.
“And that fits perfectly into our game plan, the pressure will be on them.”
Downs coach Pitso Mosimane rightly expects the visitors to park the bus.
“Obviously the bus is going to be parked, I can guarantee you that,” the former Bafana Bafana gaffer told the media yesterday.
“They play like what we saw against Golden Arrows, with speedy wingers . . . like how Khama Billiat and Cuthbert Malajila play.
“They are Zimbabweans, quick off the mark. They will try to catch us on a counter-attack. It’s a risky game. We need to bring the ball up and have the right attitude”
Golden Arrows frustrated Sundowns to a goalless draw upon the Absa Premiership log leaders’ return from Zimbabwe.
Mosimane will have to make do without the C in the famed Pretoria CBD as striker Leonardo Castro will sit out tonight’s tie due to a hamstring injury.
Castro’s absence could see Malajila, an unused substitute in the 2-1 midweek win over Mpumalanga Black Aces, making a rare start after struggling to break back into the team following his return from injury in January.
The former Chapungu man may be asked to lead the attack with on-fire Billiat and Keegan Dolly roaming just behind him.
Hlompo Kekana anchors the midfield.
Kekana, a defensive midfielder, has weighed in with seven goals this season and Chicken Inn are alive to the danger posed by the man who wears Downs’ No. 8 shirt.
Goalkeeper Dennis Onyango bounces back into the squad after missing the first leg with an injury.
Chicken Inn Starting XI
E. Chipezeze, P. Bernard, M. Jackson, D. Lunga, D. Phiri, T. Kutinyu, C. Matawu, P. Madhazi, E. Chirambadare, O. Tarumbwa, M. Katsvairo.