Ricky Zililo Senior Sports Reporter
SOUTH African giants Mamelodi Sundowns will touch down at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport on Friday, 24 hours before taking on Zimbabwean champions Chicken Inn in the first leg of the Caf Champions League preliminary round at Barbourfields Stadium on Saturday.The Gamecocks’ spokesman Tavengwa Hara yesterday said they had started the countdown to the high-profile match.
“We’ve received communication from Zifa that Mamelodi Sundowns are landing in Bulawayo on Friday afternoon. Among the requests that they’ve made is for us to facilitate clearance of their supporters, who are coming on Friday night through the Beitbridge border post. Getting our Caf Champions League preliminary round opponents’ itinerary all but confirms that our season has started and we’re now doing the countdown towards making history as a club,” said Hara.
He said they will have a stakeholders’ meeting with the police, local authority, media, supporters and Zifa either today or tomorrow after which they will announce the gate charges.
With the domestic season yet to start, the Chicken Inn-Sundowns match is likely to attract a big turnout.
“This is a high-profile game and we hope people of Bulawayo and the rest of Zimbabwe come in their numbers to rally behind our team. We’re Zimbabwe’s representatives and we intend to do our best in this competition and fly the country’s flag high. Our plea is for all football loving Zimbabweans to come in their numbers and rally behind our boys,” Hara said.
It will not be an easy encounter against Sundowns, who are in terrific form and extended their league’s unbeaten run to 14 after dismantling Free State Stars 5-2 yesterday to open a six-point gap at the top of the table.
Chicken Inn have five days to correct the mistakes they made during their 10-day tour of Zambia where they played Azam of Tanzania and two Zambian sides Zanaco and Zesco in Ndola.
The Gamecocks drew 2-2 against Zanaco and lost 1-3 to Azam before going down 0-2 to Zesco.
In Zambia, Chicken Inn were without the national team quartet of goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, defender Lawrence Mhlanga and strikers Edmore Chirambadare and Moses Demera, who were in Rwanda at the African Nations Championship (Chan).
They also missed the services of skipper Danny Phiri and Clemence Matawu, who were recovering from tendon and calf strains respectively.
Chicken Inn coach Joey Antipas, who said the Zambian tour was an eye-opener for his side, said he was looking forward to having his full squad at training today.
Antipas will have to work out ways of shutting out Sundowns’ attackers and improve his team’s defensive weaknesses as well as their transition from defence to attacking mode.
He is aware that Sundowns will not be easy opponents and has challenged his players to work hard.
“Only hard work can get us through. We’ve to be disciplined and concentrate throughout the game because our opponents are enjoying a good run. Truth be told, next week’s game against Sundowns is going to be one hell of a fixture that will require maximum concentration, especially seeing that our opponents are halfway through their season and we’re just coming out of pre-season,” said Antipas.
“The Zambian tournament helped us try combinations and I think we’ll use the coming week to work on our shortcomings as well as get the boys that were with the Warriors understand our philosophy,” he said.