By Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE champions FC Platinum bowed out of the group stages of the CAF Champions League without a win after suffering a 2-1 defeat to a weakened Esperance de Tunis side in their final Group B match at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo on Saturday afternoon.
The defeat meant FC Platinum finished their first ever group stage campaign at the foot of the table with two points from their six matches while Espérance de Tunis, who are the reigning African champions topped the pool with an unbeaten record and a haul of 14 points.
Espérance, who had already qualified for the quarterfinals with a match to spare, fielded a largely second string side which was under the tutelage of the club’s assistant coach Othman Najjar.
Despite the absentees, Esperance got off to a great start and claimed the lead as early as the eighth minute through Mohamed Meskini’s long range free-kick which beat FC Platinum goalkeeper Petros Mhari.
Platinum responded well to going behind and mounted some good attacks of their own, although Esperance seemed happy to sit back and hold on to their lead until the halftime break.
The hosts created a few half-chances to test Esperance goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifa, who had a busy afternoon in goal for the visitors.
FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza made a change early in the second half, replacing new signing Thomas Chideu up front with the experienced Charles Sibanda.
The hosts looked much improved in attack and an equaliser duly arrived just after the hour mark, with Ali Sadiki punishing Cherifa for failing to decisively deal with a swerving William Stima free-kick to equalise in the 62nd minute.
FC Platinum’s hopes of completing what would have been an impressive comeback were dashed when the Tunisians reclaimed their lead on 83 minutes when Mhari fluffed a speculative shot from Adem Rjaeibi.
Mapeza said in a post-match interview that he was pleased with how his side improved with each outing in their maiden participation in the CAF Champions League group stages.
“We have been improving with each outing. There is massive improvement and we conceded soft goals in this match. It’s a learning curve for us,” he said.
“Today we failed to collect maximum points but it was a good experience for me as a coach and the players,” he added.
FC Platinum: P Mhari, D Chafa, R Muduviwa, A Sadiki, T Chideu (C Sibanda 50′), N Tigere (F Madhananga 89′) W Stima, R Kutsanzira, R Pavari, L Mhlanga, E Moyo
Esperance: M Cherifa, A Machani, A Mahmoud, A Jebali (I Mbarki 61′), B Mejri (Z Berrima 74′), K Chamam, T Meziani, H Rebai, M Romdhane, M Meskini, J Lokosa (E Rjaibi 82′)