Harare – The coach Zimbabwean CAF Champions League representatives FC Platinum, Norman Mapeza, is not a happy man.
Five of his key players - including skipper ‘keeper Petros Mhari – were down with COVID-19 ahead of the crucial preliminary second leg tie against Simba SC at the Benjamin Mkapa Stadium in Daaresalam, Tanzania about two weeks back.
Winger Silas Songani, the only one in Mapeza's deck of cards with European experience, was the other victim.
His most reliable defender, Lawrence Mhlanga, and creative hub Rainsome Pavari, were also in isolation.
Worse still, the new coronavirus test results were delivered about an hour before kick-off, raising howls of protest from an FC Platinum side that felt authorities were rigging outcomes to influence matches.
FC Platinum carried a slender 1-0 advantage into this tense battle that was dubbed “The War in Dar”.
And they were roundly beaten 0-4 by Simba Stars, meaning they would not make a third consecutive appearance in the group stages of the CAF Champions League, meaning they will have to be content playing in the second tier CAF Confederation Cup, starting with a two-legged play-off against Senegalese club Jaraaf.
COVID-19 is becoming a key determinant in the outcome of international football.
Ghanaian giants Asante Kotoko is also singing the blues, as are Uganda's KCCA and Nigeria's Plateau United.
Just about every team across Africa has similar tales to tell of how the pandemic has thrown gremlins in the works. Many claim that hosts rig the outcome of tests so as to preclude key players in opposing teams.
Plateau United gaffer Abdul Maikaba has fumed: “When the players and officials of Plateau United were tested in Nigeria for COVID-19, the result came out negative.
“On arriving in Tanzania, we presented the test results to the immigration officials. They now conducted another test on the team five minutes before the game and told the match commissioner that our two key players, who were supposed to start the game, had tested positive.”
He claimed that after the match the team engaged a laboratory of their own and the players who had "tested" positive returned negative results.
The second leg of the second preliminary between Kotoko and Sudanese side Al Hilal did not kick-off after the former had seven of their players "tested" positive for COVID-19. Interestingly, two of Al Hilal's key players also "tested" positive in the reverse fixture in Ghana.
Resultantly, only three teams from Southern Africa made it through to the group stage.
The South African pair of Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs, along with Angolan side Petro Atletico, will represent the region in the Champions League.
CAF Champions League
Group A: Al Ahly, AS Vita Club, Simba, Al Merrikh
Group B: TP Mazembe, Al Hilal, Sundowns, Belouizdad
Group C: Wydad Casablanca, Horoya, Petro Atletico, Kaizer Chiefs
Group D: Esperance, Zamalek, Mouloudia Alger, Teungueth