ALGIERS – CAPS United’s failure to invest in their squad was cruelly exposed when they crashed out of the African Champions League following a 4-1 defeat to USM Alger (USMA) here on Sunday night at the Omar Hamadi Stadium.
Okacha Hamzaoui and Ziri Hammar first half strikes and an Oussama Darffalou second half brace handed the Green Machine their heaviest defeat in the tournament while Abbas Amidu got the consolation for Makepekepe late in the second half.
Although, United became the first side to score away to USMA in this competition, for the third time in six matches, the Zimbabwean champions conceded four goals in a single match.
Lloyd Chitembwe’s side conceded 16 goals in total from six matches at an average of 2.66 goals per match.
Makepekepe’s defence was the side’s major weakness in Group B that also included Egyptian giants Zamalek and Al Ahli Tripoli of Libya.
Last season’s vice-captain Stephen Makatuka, one of the Green Machine’s best defenders was snapped up by Joey Antipas’ South African side AmaZulu.
United then signed centre back Last Sithole on loan from FC Platinum as Makatuka’s cover. However, Sithole has been a big flop after failing to cement a regular place in the starting line-up.
The other notable signing Makepekepe made to beef up their squad for the tournament was attacking midfielder Ronald Chitiyo from Harare City.
Chitiyo has been inconsistent though, performing in patches as he failed to stamp his authority throughout the tournament.
The former Sunshine Boys midfielder showed his true potential in the 2-1 win over USMA at the National Sports Stadium in Harare in May when he scored a wonderful solo effort.
Sadly for Makepekepe, Chitiyo failed to replicate that similar form in all the six matches in group B.
Upfront, CAPS’ major weakness was the fact that they relied on Amidu to provide the goals after the persistent injury problems to veteran Leonard Tsipa and Simba Nhivi’s exit.
Amidu is not suitable to play as an out and out forward but normally thrives when he is coming in from the wing or playing behind the main striker.
At 35, Tsipa is no longer the barnstorming striker he used to be and a nagging ankle injury has seen him fail to make a single appearance in the Champions League.
Makepekepe’s financial challenges also saw them lose out on Nhivi after the striker refused to renew his contract and signed for Tanzanian side Singida United.
There are some mitigating factors though in favour of Makepekepe regarding their poor showing in the group stages.
All the other teams in the pool are from North Africa and CAPS had to make three taxing trips to that side of the continent.
The six group matches were all fitted in a condensed seven-week programme and due to the long travels, fatigue at times hampered Makepekepe’s progress.
In the end, Makepekepe finished in fourth place on the log with six points while Zamalek were third also on six points.
USMA and Ahli are the two qualifiers from the group for the quarter-finals of the tournament after finishing with 11 and nine points respectively.
Despite Makepekepe failing to reach the last eight stage of the competition, Chitembwe said his players have plenty to be proud of.
“We are not really looking at the loss. We are drawing a lot of positives from our participation in the competition.
“I think we are a very young team in this competition and we are very happy of what we have achieved,” Chitembwe said.
“It wasn’t easy but I think we gave a very good fight in the competition. It’s not so easy to play against Mazembe, it wasn’t easy to play against Zamalek and it wasn’t easy as well to play against USM Alger and I think it’s that kind of experience that we will use going forward.”
He continued: “I thought it was quite an adventurous journey, the application by the team, the technical stuff even the management of the team they have been massive and we only want to draw positives from this journey so that next season we can come again and compete.”
Captain Hardlife Zvirekwi concurred with his coach saying they hope to use the experience they gained to ensure they participate again in the tournament next season.
“The experience has been fantastic for us. It was a learning curve for us as individuals and even as a team,” Zvirekwi said.
“I think we have learnt a lot technically and tactically and we will go back there and start all over again and use what we have learnt to in home league to make sure we come back in the champions league again next season.”