Harare – There was a rude awakening for Malawian representatives, as the 2018 caf Champions League and Confederation Cup tournaments, roared into life at the weekend while Botswana’s Township Rollers probably wrote the Cinderella tale of the battles with the destruction of Sudanese powerhouse Al-Merrikh in Gaborone.
Mbabane Swallows, who displayed their growing pedigree, as a force to reckon with, thanks to a good run in the Confederation Cup last year, underlined that improvement with an impressive 4-2 victory over Lesotho champions Bantu in Maseru in the Champions League.
Zimbabwe champions, FC Platinum, were handed a reality check of the level of the game in the Champions League, in only their second dance in Africa’s flagship inter-club tournament, after they slumped to a 0-3 defeat at the hands of Clube de Agosto of Angola in Luanda.
Zambian giants, Zanaco, made light work of Gambia Armed Forces, as they ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at home but their bitter rivals, ZESCO United, were made to work in a goalless draw against JKU of Zanzibar even though they will be favourites to complete the job at home.
It is the last time that the CAF Champions League, which will celebrate the 55th edition of the tournament next year, will be played using the February to December calendar after the Confederation of African Football rang the changes.
There will be phased switch, from next season, with the CAF leadership working towards having their two inter-club tournaments running using the FIFA calendar in which matches are played from August and end in May.
This means the 2019 CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup tournaments will now be shifted from the beginning of February next year to December and will run until May the following year.
The 2020/21 tournaments will then be staged from September 2020 to May 2021‚ with that timing to remain in place in future years.
CAF want players signed during the July-August transfer window, where a lot of movement is made in international transfers, to be fielded by African clubs in their quest for glory in both the Champions League and Confederation Cup.
“This reduces the financial burden on national associations and also eliminates any ethical challenge because it removes the suspicion perceived between national associations and the referees,” read a statement from the African football governing body.
Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi have kept their domestic calendar running from February and March to either October, November and December while South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland run their leagues using the European calendar between August and May.
It remains to be seen if the football authorities in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi will be forced to adjust their domestic seasons because if they retain the status quo, it means that their champions will have to wait for more than eight months before they compete in the Champions League.
Zimbabwe once experimented with this switch to an August to May calendar but the programme ran into challenges given that a number of stadiums do not have the proper drainage networks to deal with matches played during the rainy season in Southern Africa.
“A lot of stakeholders will have to give their input because you just can’t switch just like that, especially with all the issues we had the last time we experimented with this and most of our stadiums are not ready to host matches during the rainy season and a lot of work has to be put into that area,” Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters Association boss, Eddie “Mboma” Nyatanga, told The Southern Times.
“But we have to also move with the times because there is no way we can have a team that is crowned our champions having to wait for eight or so months to play in the Champions League given that they would possibly have lost most of the players, who would have helped them win the championship in the first place.
“I guess you are well aware that we are a league that exports a lot of our footballers to South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia and usually the ones who would have helped a team to win the championship are the good ones who are targeted by these foreign clubs.
“Look at CAPS United, if they had waited to start their Champions League campaign last year in September or October, they would not have done as well as they did because they would have lost the likes of Ronald Pfumbidzayi, who went to South Africa, Ronald Chitiyo, who was signed by a Tunisian club before he cut short his stay there because of financial issues, and Abbas Amidu who went to Egypt.
“It means that a shell of the team, which helped CAPS United become champions, would be the one representing the club in the Champions League and that’s a huge disadvantage.”
FC Platinum lost a couple of the players who helped them win the league championship last year and were humbled in Angola in their return to the Champions League by an inspired Clube de Agosto although their coach Norman Mapeza insists the tie is not over.
“It is not yet over, we will work on our mistakes and try to get a result in the return leg when they come to our home,” said Mapeza.
“We did not play badly at all, the guys played well and we just need to work on our mistakes to get a result.
“I have enough football experience to know that such results can be overturned, there are many examples and I will be telling my players that.
“If you look at the goals we conceded, there were just mistakes, we made three mistakes and we were punished, I do not think it was the formation but those mistakes.”
Township Rollers of Botswana were also impressive at home with a 3-0 demolition of Al-Merrikh of Sudan while Mighty Wanderers of Malawi were hammered 0-4 in Kinshasa by Congolese giants AS Vita with Swazi side Mbabane Swallows putting four past Bantu of Lesotho in their Maseru backyard.
Another Malawian side, Masters Security, were handed a 0-5 demolition in Angola by Petro de Luanda in a Confederation Cup match, making the return leg virtually academic, Zambia’s Green Buffaloes leaked four goals, without scoring, against A Masry in Egypt while Cape Town City edged Swazi side Young Buffaloes 1-0 away from home.