FC Platinum's continental assault begins with Angolan examination
Reigning Zimbabwean champions FC Platinum have made no secret of their desire to reach the CAF Champions League, but can they bypass a stern test in the preliminary round when they face Angolan side C.D. Primeiro de Agosto?
In recent years, Zimbabwean Premier League sides have struggled when up against opponents from their COSAFA near-neighbours, but ambitious FC Platinum may have the resources to ensure a reversal of fortunes.
Last term, Ngezi Platinum were eliminated from the CAF Confederation Cup in the First Round when they fell 2-1 over two legs to Recreativo do Libolo.
Similarly, back in 2012, Dynamos' run in the continent's secondary club competition was ended prematurely when they were defeated 1-0 by Inter Luanda in the Play-off Round after dropping into the competition from the CAF Champions League.
FC Platinum are also up against it this time around after being drawn against reigning Angolan champions Primeiro de Agosto in their two-legged preliminary tie.
It represents a poor draw for the Zvishavane-based club, with their opponents steeped both in domestic success and continental competition.
D'Agosto have won 11 domestic titles since the late 1970s, and are the Girabola's current dominant force, having retained their championship last term. Since 2005, they've finished in Angola's top two on eight occasions.
They've also been regular competitors in the CAF Champions League over the years, and posted a club best by reaching the quarter finals in 2009.
Primeiro de Agosto are exactly the kind of side - considering their profile and resources - who are primed to benefit from CAF's extended CL group stage, and they'll be hoping that a long run in this competition will demonstrate that Angolan sides can tangle with the big boys from North Africa.
However, they'll be wary of an FC Platinum side that have the quality - and the ambition - to build on last season's ZPSL success.
This isn't the first time that Norman Mapeza's side have competed in the CAF Champions League - they were dumped out by Sudanese giants Al-Merreikh the first round in 2012 after qualifying as ZPSL runners-up - but they're a different outfit this time around.
Last term, the significant investment the club have received from owner Worthwhile Mugabe finally bore fruit, as they won the first Zimbabwean title of their 22-year history.
In doing so - and in outshining some of the nation's traditional giants - they became the first side from outside the league's two major centres of Harare and Bulawayo to win the title in post-independence Zimbabwe.
While Dynamos enjoyed a domestic hegemony between 2011 and 2014, recent title triumphs for Chicken Inn, CAPS United and now FC Platinum have blown the title race wide open.
However, don't be surprised if the reigning champions go on a domestic winning spree of their own, boasting - in Mapeza - arguably Zim's best coach, while simultaneously overseeing a transfer strategy that simultaneously weakens their rivals while strengthening their own squad.
They're also targeting success in the continent, with Mapeza revealing that the team are targeting the group stage, while even suggesting that an unlikely title victory is not beyond them.
"Yes [winning the title] can be done," he told journalists, as per the Herald. "What is most important for us is to have belief and keep on working hard. It can be done.
"The main objective is for us to go to the group stages, if we manage [that] then we can plan ahead," he added. "But for now the main objective is to go to the group stages."
"FC Platinum has a double challenge this year," added new signing Albert Eonde. "[Retaining the] league title and winning the CAF Champions League.
"My goal here is to contribute to the achievement of these two goals."
A recent 4-0 defeat by Zambian heavyweights Zanaco in a warm-up match ahead of their continental campaign may have exposed FC Platinum's weaknesses - and naivety at this level - but a 0-0 draw against Nkana Red Devils was more encouraging.
"There is a difference between playing in the local league and playing in the CAF Champions League," Nkana coach Manfred Chabinga told journalists, as per the Chronicle. "I think they have the potential to go to the next round.
"It's all about team work and hard work, and I feel they will make it because they are a good side.
"That they managed to win the league in Zimbabwe against some of the country's top teams like Highlanders, Dynamos and CAPS United shows that they are a good team," he added. "I know the competition in this country is really tough."
Joas Antonio Chissano, coach of Mozambican side Clube de Ferroviario Beira, dispatched 1-0 by the Platinum Miners in a recent friendly, was even more optimistic in his prediction for the CAF CL new boys.
"They will do well in the Champions League," he told journalists, as per News Day. "Basing on the way they played [against us], it is clear that they can win if they remain determined."
Should FC Platinum begin their continental assault by dumping out Primeiro de Agosto, they set up a First Round showdown with Pamplemousses of Mauritius or, more likely South Africa's Bidvest Wits.
Victory against the latter, and FC Platinum's ambitions of continental success alongside domestic dominance will start being taken a lot more seriously.
Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.