Eddie Chikamhi Harare Bureau
FORMER Zimbabwe international George Nechironga has warned Chicken Inn not to give their opponents Mamelodi Sundowns “too much respect” when the teams meet in the preliminary round of the Champions League next month.
The Gamecocks are playing in their maiden Confederation of African Football tournament after winning the league title under veteran coach Joey Antipas for the first time in their five years of Premiership experience.
Antipas has also previously guided Motor Action to the domestic Premiership crown in 2010 and also gained continental football experience while serving as assistant to both Sunday Chidzambwa and Norman Mapeza in the Warriors.
His Chicken Inn — a modest Bulawayo side —were drawn against South Africa Premiership giants Sundowns, who are playing some of their best football at the moment following consistent performances in a season, which has so far been decorated by the Telkom Knockout Cup success and are among the chasing pack for the ABSA league title. Sundowns are owned by billionaire mining magnate Patrice Motsepe who, according to the South African media, “has made it known to the players that the club has to win the Champions League’’ after failing at the second round stage last season.
They boast of an expensively assembled squad that also includes Zimbabwe internationals — striker Cuthbert Malajila and midfielder Khama Billiat.
Nechironga, who has spent two decades working in the South African Premiership as player and in the juniors coaching structures of Bloemfontein Celtics, however, believes Chicken Inn have no reason to feel intimidated by Sundowns’ profile. The former Caps United forward believes that if the Gamecocks have the clout to win the Zimbabwe league championship then they have what it takes to stand their ground against any South African side.
“They mustn’t read much into what they hear and see in the media. Of course Sundowns are a notch above in terms of administration, structures and other things but that shouldn’t mean they should give them unwarranted respect on the field of play.
“Chicken Inn mustn’t feel inferior in any way because football is just the same, especially on this part of the continent. So we’re looking forward to some real competition when the 3:00pm kickoff comes,” said Nechironga.
Chicken Inn coach Antipas has retained the bulk of the squad from last season which had the likes of skipper Danny Phiri, Bhekimpilo Ncube, George Majika, Lawrence Mhlanga, Raphael Kutinyu and veteran Clemence Matawu.
They only made a few additions to their squad after signing former Gunners and Flame Lily striker Moses Demera, Physwell Madhazi from relegated Dongo Sawmill and Bantu Rovers defender Teenage Hadebe who was on loan at Highlanders.
But unlike their opponents who are approaching the halfway stage of their league, Chicken Inn will be coming from the off-season break when they host the Brazilians at Barbourfields on February 14.
The Gamecocks only regrouped last Thursday to begin their preparations for the Champions League.
The different levels of match fitness will obviously come into play and Antipas and his men should not expect it to be any easy in both legs and especially against the background of the long lay-off by their players.
In contrast Sundowns have been performing consistently of late and have been tipped by former Bafana Bafana midfielder Phil Masinga to go for the treble this year by adding the Nedbank Cup and the league title to the Telkom Knockout title they won at the expense of rivals Kaizer Chiefs just before the Christmas break.
But Nechironga maintains that the Gamecocks stand a big chance of upsetting the Brazilians and urged them to undertake thorough preparations and to remain focused on the job without reading much into what the South Africans are doing.
“One major problem that I’ve seen with Zimbabwean players when they play at this stage, and particularly against rich clubs like Sundowns, is they always want to play to market themselves.
“Of course it’s a platform to be noticed because scouts will be following but this isn’t about individualism at the expense of the success of the team. It’s Chicken Inn that won the championship to qualify for the Champions League, not the individuals, so these guys must play for the team,” said Nechironga.