Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor—
WHEN CAPS United were drawn to face a North African brigade in the 2017 CAF Champions League Group B yesterday, including two clubs which have been runners-up in the past two tournaments, it laid the stage for a battle between two businessmen desperate to turn their clubs into continental heavyweights. The Green Machine will take on five-time African champions Zamalek of Egypt, USM Alger of Algeria and homeless Al Ahli Tripoli of Libya — who have been forced to play their home matches in Tunisia because of unrest in their country — in the Group B battles.
Zamalek, whose last Champions League title came 15 years ago, were the losing finalists in last year’s tournament after a 1-3 aggregate loss to Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa.
USM Alger also fell at the final hurdle, in the same tourney, after crashing to a 1-4 aggregate loss to TP Mazembe in 2015.
The Cairo giants will be Makepekepe’s first opponents in Egypt on the weekend of May 12/13/14 and the Green Machine will host USM Alger in Harare a week later and, again, will be at home the following weekend against Al Ahli Tripoli.
CAPS will then travel to Tunisia, where Al Ahli Tripoli play their home matches, on the weekend of June 20 and 21 before the Green Machine host Zamalek in Harare at the end of June.
Lloyd Chitembwe and his men will complete their group fixtures with an away tie against USM Alger in Algeria.
Should they win their group, they will take on the runners-up in Group A, which features Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, the two Sudanese giants Al Hilal and Al Merreikh and Ferroviario of Mozambique, in the quarter-finals.
In the event CAPS finish second in Group B they will take on the winners of Group A in the quarter-finals. If the Harare giants win Group B and win their quarter-final tie, they will meet the winner of the quarter-final tie between the team that wins Group D — Al Ahly of Egypt, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco, Coton Sport of Cameroon or Zanaco of Zambia — and the team that finishes in second place in Group C which features Mamelodi Sundowns, Esperance of Tunisia, AS Vita of the FRC and St George of Ethiopia — in the semi-finals.
Should the Green Machine finish second in Group B, and then beat the winners of Group A in their quarter-final, they will then book a semi-final battle against the winners of the quarter-final tie which features the team which wins Group C and the runners-up in Group D.
But, amid all these permutations and the possibility of Makepekepe, at some point, also having the possibility of taking on Khama Billiat and his Sundowns side that conquered the continent last year, yesterday’s draw in Cairo provided a sub-plot that will see two businessmen — driven by their ambitions to turn their clubs into continental heavyweights — fighting a battle on the sidelines. And, the irony of it all, is that the two have business interests in identical fields.
Farai Jere is the Harare businessman whose investment finally reaped dividends by ending CAPS United’s lengthy 11-year wait for the domestic league championship last year and a return to the CAF Champions League, has interests in power generation with his company specialising in the supply of materials, equipment and services pertaining to electrical power distribution.
The firm, which has technical partners around the world, secured a multi-million-dollar deal for the construction of an emergency power plant in Mutare.
Jere, who also has other interests, including the hospitality industry where he has been working towards the construction of a five-star hotel in Harare, declared at the beginning of the year that his CAPS United would reach the group stages of the Champions League even though five-time champions TP Mazembe were in their path.
“The first target was to qualify for the group stages because that’s what we had never done in our history and we are delighted that we didn’t only do that but we knocked out a real African heavyweight and, in doing so, we did not only represent ourselves with distinction but we flew our national flag high,” said Jere.
‘’Now, the mission is to do very well in the group stages and I think this is a very fair draw for us because I am confident we can compete against all the teams in our group.
“Zamalek might have the history of having been five-time champions, and reaching the final last year, but if you follow this game closely you will note that they lost three times against Mamelodi Sundowns last year, including twice in their group meetings and once in the final, and that should give us an indication that we can compete against them.
‘’That same Sundowns team only squeezed past Chicken Inn in their first round battle and that shows we have competitive teams in our league and that is what should give us the inspiration — just as was the case when we played TP Mazembe when everyone was saying we would be humiliated but we proved them wrong — going forward.
‘’We are unfazed by the opposition and our coach is just working on improving our team and he has all our support.’’
CAPS United’s first home match in Group B will be against USM Alger, the team owned by a 52-year-old Algerian tycoon, Ali Haddad, whose construction company ETRHB Baddad acquired 83 percent of the club in 2010, after paying US$6.5 million for the stake, on the promise of turning this football side into one of the most successful on the continent.
“I want to make this club the best in the country. The USMA is a great team and we will naturally have to play to win titles, that’s the least,’’ he said.
‘’Personally, I will do my best to ensure that the club does not miss anything on a daily basis. We have many projects and we are very keen to achieve them.’’
Haddad, whose company also owns two newspapers — Le Temps dÁlgerie and Wakt eldjazair and two private television channels — has also bidded to take over a struggling French airline.
Like Jere, he has interests in the power generation industry with his club’s flagship sponsors being Sonelgaz, the vast state-owned company in charge of gas and electricity distribution in Algeria, while some of the other big sponsor of the team is the mobile telecommunications company Djezzy GSM.
And, like Jere who has plunged into the hotel industry, Haddad last year added three large luxury hotels in Barcelona — the Grand Hotel La Florida, Hotel Miramar Barcelona and the Hotel Palace de Barcelona — to business portfolio that also includes two other hotels — Le Marin and Le Marin Bis — which he owns in Algeria. His financial muscle means he has been able to engage the services of Belgian coach Paul Put, the gaffer who guided Burkina Faso into the final of the Nations Cup in 2013 where they lost to Nigeria, and his stewardship has taken the Algerian club reach the final of the Champions League and two domestic league championships in the past five years.