After title triumph, FC Platinum need to show mettle in Africa

FC Platinum players discuss match strategy. Supplied

In the wake of FC Platinum's milestone second consecutive title triumph, it might be worth recalling that it took Zimbabwe's wealthiest football club eight seasons to bag a debut championship, and that despite their overwhelming dominance on the transfer market.

The hope is that Norman Mapeza's men will not need that long to make headway in Africa.

Platinum beat Shabanie Mine 1-0 on Sunday to seal the league crown, with new arrival Devon Chafa netting the decisive goal late in the second-half to subdue an opponent fiercely determined to delay the partying.

Platinum had already been entered as Zimbabwe's representatives in the CAF Champions League which begins at the end of this month as the authorities move to align the competition with the European football calendar.

And after the utter humiliation earlier this year, when the champions stepped onto the continental stage with zest only to be cut to size following a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Angolan giants Premeiro de Agosto in the preliminary round, Platinum will be under pressure to make amends.

Recent changes to the tournament's format mean it is now a lot easier to reach the lucrative group stages, and there will be no plausible excuses for Mapeza should the team falter again.

The former Zimbabwe skipper now has three domestic titles to his name, the first of which came with Monomotapa United a decade ago. He fully deserves his place in the limelight.

Another poor campaign in Africa, however could see him becoming eligible for the 'good for the local league only' brigade, with some critics sure to observe that he lacks the tactical nous to make it on the big stage.

The statistics suggest that Mapeza has coxed some improvement from his team when compared to last season, with increasing output upfront making their title victory this term a tad more palatable.

Not everyone will have forgotten that Platinum barely impressed during their march to last season's title, virtually riding their luck to glory in a campaign blighted by some crippling shortcomings in attack.

Platinum are indisputably the masters of the passing game, but more often than not they end up looking as though they are mostly interested in keeping the ball as opposed to going for goal.

With perfectionist Mapeza screaming and making all manner of angry gestures on the touchline, Platinum players have become naturally averse to those risky moves which however have the potential to create scoring chances.

The problem was more acute last term, when seven of their matches ended in goalless draws while they could not hit the nets more than once in a further sixteen.

Their tally of 40 goals in 34 matches said more than enough about the lack of quality in attack.

With two matches to play this term, Platinum have already scored 51 goals, and there is more than a hint of adventure to their approach too.

There is a caveat though, with 17 of those goals having come from the boot of attacking midfielder Rodwell Chinyengetere [above], who also notched a further seven assists. Farai Madhananga has added another seven goals along with three assists from his box to box role.

None of the regular attackers Mkhokheli Dube (3 goals), Gift Mbweti (4), Albert Eonde (3), and Ali Sadiki (4) has scored more than four goals and clearly, Mapeza has issues to deal with on that front.

Triangle United attacker Lameck Nhamo, with 12 goals to his name, has been included in Platinum's Champions League squad, but it will take more than the efforts of one striker if the team is to match the continent's best.

Mapeza had little to worry about in defence though, with his team conceding a mere 14 goals in their 32 matches so far, and he can only hope they do not suffer the level of stage fright which saw them concede five against Agosto.

While the defensive partnership of Kevin Moyo and Gift Bello has remained solid, with defensive link man Winston Mhango also performing his role to perfection in front of the back four.

Madhananga's unique ability to excel at either end of the pitch, meanwhile, has brought some much needed balance to the Platinum midfield.

But the Champions League is a different proposition altogether, and a lot will depend on Mapeza's readiness to provide the organisation and inspiration needed to ensure his men produce their collective best.