HARARE – CAPS United joined some of African football elite teams when they reached the group stages of the African Champions League at the weekend.
Makepekepe defied odds by knocking DR Congo giants TP Mazembe out of the competition on Sunday in the final qualifying stage.
Very few gave the Zimbabwean champions a chance to get past the five-time African champions but they battled to a 1-1 away draw in Lubumbashi in the first leg.
United then weathered a Mazembe storm in the second leg at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday to qualify for the group stages of the competition on away goals rule.
This is the first time Makepekepe have reached this far in the competition and today they will be among some of the best teams on the continent when the draw is conducted.
The last Zimbabwean side to qualify for the group stages of the African Champions League was Dynamos in 2010.
This poor performance by local teams in continental competitions have had a negative impact on Makepekepe’s seeding ahead of the draw.
Before a draw, teams are ranked according to how their country representatives performed in continental inter-club competitions using the Confederation of African Football (Caf) five-year Ranking system.
At the moment, the ranking system is based on a cycle between 2011 and 2015 — a period where no Zimbabwean team reached the group stages of both the African Champions League and the Confederation Cup.
Zimbabwe does not have any points on the Caf five-year Ranking hence Makepekepe’s low standing among the remaining 16 teams.
Lloyd Chitembwe’s team has been placed in the last Pot 4 together with the likes of Zanaco (Zambia), Saint George (Ethiopia) and Ferroviario de Beira (Mozambique).
All four teams have never reached this far in the competition as they are making their debut appearance in the group stages of Africa’s premier inter-club football competition.
Pot 3 comprises Al-Merrikh (Sudan), Coton Sport Garoua (Cameroon), AS Vita (DR Congo) and Al-Ahli Tripoli.
Al-Merrikh are perennial campaigners in the Champions League and reached the semi-finals of the competition as recently as 2015 before losing to eventual winners TP Mazembe.
Garoua are no strangers to Zimbabwean opponents after having met Dynamos in the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2008.
The Cameroonian side won the semi-final 5-1 on aggregate after beating DeMbare 1-0 at Rufaro Stadium before wrapping up the tie in Garoua with an emphatic 4-1 victory.
They went on to lose the final to Egyptian giants Al Ahly.
AS Vita have got one star on their jersey after having won the Champions League way back in 1973 but since then they have played second fiddle to their more illustrious compatriots Mazembe.
Al-Ahli Tripoli do not have glittering history in Caf competitions as this is their second time playing in the Champions League.
Pot 2 has some interesting teams in Al-Hilal (Sudan), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), Esperance (Tunisia) and USM Alger (Algeria).
Al-Hilal are strong contenders on the continent having reached the final of the Champions League twice before in 1987 and 1992. Edmore Sadomba’s former club were in the semi-finals of the competition as recently as 2015.
Esperance are one of the biggest teams on the continent in the truest sense as they have won the Champions League twice in 1994 and 2011.
They have also been in the final on previous four occasions —1999, 2000, 2010 and 2012.
Wydad are a rising African giant after stagnating following their 1992 triumph in the Champions League.
Last year, they reached the semi-finals of the competition after a long absence on the scene before they were knocked out by Egyptian giants Zamalek in a thrilling last four clash.
Zamalek won the first leg 4-0 in Cairo leaving most people with the opinion the White Knights had already booked their place in the final. However, Wydad almost produced a stunning comeback when they won the second 5-2 in Casablanca to lose the semi-final 6-5 on aggregate.
USM Alger have made participation in the Confederation Cup their speciality but the club seems to be focusing on the Champions League for now.
In 2015, they went all the way to the final before losing to TP Mazembe.
Pot 1 is made up of defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa, record eight-time winners Al Ahly, five-time winners Zamalek (both Egypt) and Tunisia giants Etoile du Sahel, who have won the competition once.
Whichever group Makepekepe will find themselves in, one thing for sure is that they will be among illustrious company.