Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
AFTER 17 weeks of inactivity, the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League action returns this Saturday with an enlarged league of 18.
This means 306 matches will be played before the 2017 champions are crowned. This represents 66 more games than last year’s 240 when the league had 16 teams.
With so much action guaranteed, expectations are high that the 2017 season, which will see four clubs relegated at the end of the year, will even be more competitive as teams fight for the title and also battle against relegation.
Teams have been reinforcing their squads during pre-season and the start of the season means they have to translate those preps onto the field of play.
Champions Caps United had a head start having already played four competitive matches in the Caf Champions League that saw them ditching five-time champions TP Mazembe of the DRC out of the competition to qualify for the lucrative group phase.
The team’s players now shift their focus from continental competition to the domestic league.
Chronicle Sport looks at some of the players expected to play key roles in helping their teams either win the championship or survive relegation.
Bantu Rovers: The Premiership returnees won the 2016 Zifa Southern Division One title and certainly don’t harbour title aspirations with their hopes being to survive relegation. Rovers have been doing their pre-season preparations under the tutelage of director of coaching Methembe Ndlovu and Agent Sawu.
Rovers are staying true to their club policy of giving youngsters a chance to shine and Under-20 players form the backbone of the club. Young Warriors striker Bukhosi Sibanda, Obrey Chirinda and Gifford High School Upper Six pupil Michael Kutsanzira are some of the youngsters to look out for.
Experienced players, goalkeeper Ndodana Sibanda, defenders Tapiwa Kumbuyani, Newman Sianchali and Dumisani “Fazo” Ndlovu are expected to guide the youngsters.
Black Rhinos: The army side bolstered their squad with the experienced former Dynamos duo of Sydney Linyama and Benjamin Marere. Coach Stanford “Stix” M’tizwa believes the two players will provide the necessary edge needed in the team. He also warned that they hadn’t returned to the top-flight to add numbers but to stay.
Bulawayo City: National Under-20 gaffer Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu was named head coach at the beginning of March. Mpofu will be hoping midfielder Sipho Ndlovu, who is only playing in his second topflight year, will shine. His 2016 performances earned him a national team call-up last week for the Warriors’ friendly against Zambia. Young striker Trevor Ndlovu, utility player Zephaniah Ngodzo, veteran forward Mkhokheli Dube, defender Zibusiso Sibanda and Douglas Sibanda are the notable players at the municipal team.
Caps United: The champions are in the groove and ready to roll after retaining 95 percent of their 2016 squad. New arrival Ronald “Rooney” Chitiyo seems to have settled down quickly. Key men at Caps United will be defensive midfielder Devon Chafa, goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda and Phinias Bamusi.
Chapungu: The airmen from Gweru parted ways with their coach John Nyikadzino at the end of last season and brought in Tendai Chikuni. Chapungu retained some players they had loaned out to sister clubs, among them striker Brighton Mugoni, who was with Blue Swallows last season. Zifa Central Soccer League Soccer Star of the Year Ricky Bota, Livingstone Genti, Lloyd Gwerina, Blessing Sahondo, Kelvin Bingala and Nigel Papius are among the new faces at Chapungu. It is this mixture of new signings and the old guard that Chikuni believes will ensure his side makes an impact this season.
Chicken Inn: The 2015 champions had a slow start last season, but finished strongly. They retained most of their players, although it’s not clear whether the Gamecocks have made a decision on want-away defender Lawrence Mhlanga. Besides the unsettled Mhlanga, Chicken Inn have Teenage Hadebe, Moses Jackson and Ben Nyahunzvi to marshal their defence. They brought in striker Kudakwashe Gurure from relegated Mutare City as well as defensive midfielder Innocent Mucheneka from Hwange. How they fit into coach Rahman Gumbo’s plans will be key to their campaign. Soccer Star of the Year finalist Clemence Matawu, striker Obidiah Tarumbwa and goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze are among players to watch.
Dynamos: The Harare giants are on a rebuilding exercise under coach Lloyd Mutasa. They concluded their signings last week after capturing ex-Buffaloes goalkeeper Blessing Mwandimutsira and Cameroonian striker Christian Joel Epoupa Ntouba on two-year deals. Some new faces at Dynamos include former Gunners and Bindura United striker Quality Kangadze, Emmauel Mandiranga and Cleopas Kapupurika. However, it’s the youngsters at Dynamos like Peace Makaha, Kudzanayi Nyakasaka, Tawanda Macheke and King Nasama that are expected to make a mark.
FC Platinum: They were not convincing in their 0-3 loss to Highlanders in the ZNA Charity Shield semi-finals. Winston Mhango, Rodwell Chinyengetere and new signing Bret Amidu will be key in midfield. Given a chance, Agrippa Murimba can score goals, while attacker Gift Mbweti, who joined from Hwange, needs to work harder to fit into coach Norman Mapeza’s system.
Harare City: They were quiet during the pre-season, preferring to conduct their preparations far from the madding crowd in the Eastern Highlands. Young Warriors and ex-Hwange striker Pritchard Mphelele is one of their new signings. Tendai Samanja, young Tatenda Tumba, ex-national team goalie Tafadzwa Dube seem to be the anchor of the Sunshine Boys.
Highlanders: Bosso have gone for a decade without a title and for the first time in a long time managed to retain the bulk of their players for the new season. That continuity should count for something if they are to be taken seriously in the title fight. They brought in eccentric striker Rodrick Mutuma from perennial rivals Dynamos. Mutuma’s presence should give young striker Prince Dube room to shine. Other players to watch are Soccer Star of the Year finalist Peter Muduhwa, Rahman Kutsanzira and the young duo of Bukhosi Ncube and Brian Banda.
How Mine: The gold miners’ coach Kelvin Kaindu has kept the names of “gems” he has captured off the spotlight. How Mine didn’t renew contracts for a number of players like Tawanda Muparati, Fungai Chirinda, Qadr Amini, Heritein Masuku, Thembani Masuku and Tapiwa Khumbuyani when they expired last season. Kaindu will unveil the unheralded players he hopes will drive their charge on Saturday against ZPC Kariba. Former Highlanders and national team playmaker Peter “Rio” Moyo, ex-Zim Leopards striker Tinashe Makanda, utility players Milton Ncube and Mukundika Sakala and goalkeeper Donovan Bernard are the gold miners’ trump cards.
Hwange: They lost a number of players that quit after going for months without pay. Tonisani Sibelo surfaced at Triangle United, Chicken Inn signed Mucheneka, Munyaradzi Mungadze is at Bulawayo City, Mbweti joined FC Platinum while Mphelele is now with Harare City. Hwange are likely to promote a number of youngsters from their developmental Under-20 side that was in the First Division. Veterans Gilbert Zulu and Obert Cobra Moyo will show the boys the ropes.
Ngezi Platinum Stars: They are championship dark horses. They bolstered their side for the Caf Confederation Cup where they bowed out in the first round. Some players they recruited include midfielder Xolisani Moyo from Bulawayo City, Amin (How Mine), utility player Godknows Murwira (Dynamos) and Tsholotsho FC’s MacClive Phiri. Dependable defender Patson Jaure, who captained the Warriors against Zambia last Sunday, Walter Mukanga and Liberty Chakoroma could help the Mhondoro side spring a surprise.
Shabanie Mine: The striking trio of Dylan Chivandire, Felix Kutswatuka and Farai Mupasiri should lead Shabanie Mine’s search for goals and survival fight. The Premiership returnees will also look up to the experience of ex-Monomotapa and Mutare City defender Brian Mapfumo, former national team and Orlando Pirates defender Zvenyika Makonese, attackers Tapiwa Maduma, formerly with Herrentials, and Wellington Taderera, who had a stint with Kwekwe Sables.
Triangle United: The Lowveld side hired Tawurayi Mangwiro as head coach and has been conducting its transfer business quietly. Former Dynamos defender Guthrie Zhokinyi is expected to lead Triangle’s campaign. It’s not clear if they signed Hwange defender Tonisani Sibelo.
Tsholotsho FC: Coach Lizwe Sweswe, who helped them survive relegation for two seasons, left the club to join FC Platinum. They also lost Zimiseleni Moyo to Zambian giants Zanaco and MacClive Phiri to Ngezi Platinum. Former Highlanders captain Felix Chindungwe and ex-Chicken Inn midfielder Canaan Nkomo are their major signings.
Yadah FC: Will the anointing oil work? The Premiership new boys’ coach Jairos Tapera believes the anointing from club owner Prophet Walter Magaya will shake the topflight league.
“We leave everything to God to help us with the anointing of our prophet Magaya,” Tapera told our Harare bureau.
Yadah FC’s signings include Wellington Kamudyariwa, Moses Gutu, Brian Chikwenya and former Chicken Inn forward Moses Demera. More will be known about them after their first few games.
ZPC Kariba: Sunday Chidzambwa’s side finished sixth last season and made two major signings that could influence their title fight. They reunited with midfielder-cum-striker Raphael Manuvire, who was at Harare City last season. They also signed bulldozing striker Francesco Zekumbawire and have brilliant goalkeepers in Tendai Hove and Takabva Mawaya, who was part of the Warriors’ Afcon squad.
Article Source: The Chronicle