Ray Bande Senior Reporter
FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza believes that playing the Champions’ League Group B clash against continental super powers and current Confederation of African Football (Caf) Champions League cup holders Esperance Tunis in an empty stadium will be an advantage for his team. Esperance will play the game against FC Platinum behind closed doors after the Tunisian giants were found guilty of crowd disturbances in the 2018 Champions League final against Al Ahly.
Esperance will also play another home match against Orlando Pirates in February in an empty stadium as part of the punishment.
FC Platinum face Esperance Tunis away in Tunisia today (Friday) is a true test of their pedigree in this competition albeit being played before an empty stadium.
The match will be played before an empty Stade Olympique de Rades in the Tunisian capital of Tunis.
CAF announced on Monday night that Esperance were being punished for their fans’ behaviour in last year’s Champions League final against Al Ahly, so they will play two matches behind closed doors.
The Tunisian giants beat eight-time winners Al Ahly 4-3 on aggregate, completing a stunning comeback after they lost the first leg 3-1.
Ahead of the second leg against the Egyptian powerhouse in Rades, the home team supporters attacked the Al Ahly bus as it was heading to the match venue.
Esperance are always at their best when they are playing in front of their home fans.
This is a big setback for Esperance, who won’t have their intimidating fans, who try to disrupt the opposition with lazers while also lighting up flares, rallying behind them on match day.
But with Esperance having drawn their first group match against Horoya last Friday, they will be looking for a win at home to give themselves a better chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Mapeza knows the Herculean task that lies ahead of his team and did not mince his words when Post Sport interviewed him on his game plan ahead of the crucial tie.
“We need to go there with a game plan and at least get a point or better away from home. Yes, playing in an empty stadium will be an advantage of some sort to us given that we will be playing one of the best supported teams on the continent who would give us more problems if we were to play before their home crowd.
“There is really nothing much to change in terms of our approach to this game as compared to those that we have played so far in this campaign. The game plan we used when we played in the initial stages is the same game plan we are going to use when we go to Tunisia.”
But the former Warriors international knows that the challenge presented by Esperance is much greater than what his had been accustomed to in the domestic Premiership let alone in the matches that they have so far played in this campaign.
“We are all aware that Esperance are a good side especially when they are playing at home albeit playing before an empty stadium. We know they are dangerous because they are the current champion’s league holders, but we are just not going there to open up the game for them.
“Our plan remains the same. I know what to expect when we go to Tunisia because I once played there with the national team and that experience will be key.”
Mapeza said they will not be intimidated by the dismal results that local teams have posted when playing at the Stade Olympique de Rades.
“It is fact that most of the teams that have played at the Stade Olympique de Rades from Zimbabwe have not performed well. We are aware that the venue has never been a good hunting ground for Zimbabwean teams.
“However, that will not deter us from playing our usual game. That will certainly not deter us from employing the tactics that we have planed ahead of the encounter,” said Mapeza.
The Stade Olympique de Rades is where Dynamos suffered a humiliating 6-0 defeat at the hands of Esperance in 2012 and before that in 2010, they lost 1-0.
Highlanders also suffered a 6-0 mauling by the three-time Caf Champions League champions and maybe that explains why the FC Platinum gaffer says a draw would be a good result for the Zvishavane based side.