Paul Mundandi and Tedious Manyepo
CAPS UNITED coach Lloyd Chitembwe is unfazed by the prospect of meeting one of Africa’s most decorated teams — TP Mazembe — as his team have a realistic chance of dating the Democratic Republic of Congo giants in the first round of the CAF Champions League. According to the draw conducted by the Confederation of African Football in Cairo yesterday, former African champions TP Mazembe, who have a preliminary round bye, will be waiting in ambush should CAPS United clear the first hurdle against Lesotho kings Lioli.
Chitembwe feels his team is in the Champions League to compete and are prepared to take on any opponent drawn against them.
The Zimbabwe champions will be away in the first leg scheduled for the weekend of 10–12 February before hosting Lioli at the National Sports Stadium a week later.
The Castle Lager Premiership Coach of The Year reckons his team will be up for the task as Makepekepe are aiming for at least the group stages of the tournament. “We expected to be drawn against the best teams on the continent since this is the CAF Champions League.
“It is not an easy draw and there are no easy teams at this level of competition. “But, as CAPS United, we relish the challenge as it is a great experience for the club, players as well as the technical team.
“These kinds of situations don’t come often in one’s career so everyone is raring to go. “We will be representing the country and we are looking forward to give it our best shot.
“We know that the winners between us and Lioli FC will meet TP Mazembe, but at the moment we cannot cross the river before reaching there. “We are focusing on Lioli FC. They are the champions in Lesotho and that alone tells a story of a team who deserve a lot of respect.
“If we manage to sail through, then we can start talking of TP Mazembe. “We are in the Champions League to compete not to make up the numbers,” said Chitembwe.
Based in Teyateyaneng, Lioli were founded in 1934 and come to the African Safari having won back-to-back Lesotho league championships.
Lioli have won the Lesotho Premiership five times in 1985, 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Ts’epo Seturumane was their leading goal scorer in the past season after he bagged 16 goals.
They have also won the Lesotho Cup four times in 1984, 2007, 2010 and 2014.
With CAF having cut the two-leg qualifying phase from three rounds to two and doubled the number of qualifiers for the mini-leagues from eight to 16, the winner between Mazembe and CAPS United/Lioli tie will progress to the group stages.
Clubs eliminated at the last-32 stage of qualifying get a second shot at African glory by dropping to the Confederation Cup.
Cash rich TP Mazembe won the Confederation Cup in the past season.
Makepekepe president Farai Jere has already said his team is aiming to at least reach the group-phase of the tournament.
In a new format announced by CAF the African champions will pocket $2.5 million, which is a 66.6 percent increase.
Mamelodi Sundowns are the current African champions and they will play Confederation Cup winners TP Mazembe in the CAF Super Cup final next year.
The South African soccer kings participated in the FIFA Club World Cup held in Japan last week, but were largely unsuccessful in the tournament eventually won by European Champions Real Madrid of Spain.
Record eight-time title-holders Ahly, fellow Egyptian side Zamalek and Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia are among the perennial campaigners who will challenge Sundowns in their title defence.
Zamalek, the 2016 runners-up have won the Champions League on five occasions.
Meanwhile, in the Confederation Cup, continental football newboys Ngezi Platinum Stars were drawn against Pamplemousse of Mauritius in the preliminary round.
Tonderai Ndiraya’s miners won the ticket to represent Zimbabwe after they landed the Chibuku Super Cup.
Ngezi Platinum will begin their quest to conquer the continent in Mauritius in the weekend of 10-12 February, with the platinum miners hosting the second leg a week later.
If Ngezi beat the Mauritians, their next assignment will be against CD Libolo of Angola.
Ngezi Platinum chairman Jeremiah Gasiteni said he was happy with the draw and believes his team has a chance to progress to the group stages if they play as a unit.
“It’s a fair draw for starters. I think we can progress to the group stages if we show the same kind of determination which we displayed locally in the past season.
“Our advantage is that we are playing the first leg away and if we make any mistake, we will be able to make amends at home,” he said.
Pamplemousse are not new to Zimbabwean opposition as they once played against Highlanders in the preliminary round of the Champions League and Bosso needed a penalty shoot-out to eliminate the islanders having drawn 1-1 on aggregate.
The Confederation Cup has a $1.25 million prize for the winners with the runners-up pocketing $625 000.