Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
THE Castle Lager Premier Soccer League 2017 season roars into life this afternoon, with six matches lined up.
The country’s traditional giants, Highlanders, Dynamos and defending champions Caps United who play their respective games tomorrow will be following today’s action with keen interest as they hope to get off to good starts.
Caps United who are under the guidance of Lloyd Chitembwe are favourites to retain the title but they should expect stiff competition from clubs like Highlanders who are coached by Dutch expatriate Erol Akbay, Norman Mapeza’s FC Platinum and 2015 champions Chicken Inn who are under the tutelage of Rahman Gumbo.
Tonderai Ndiraya’s Ngezi Platinum Stars are the championship dark horses alongside rebuilding Dynamos who are under the stewardship of Lloyd Mutasa as well as ZPC Kariba.
How the traditional giants and championship dark horses start their campaign will be key to their title ambitions.
Clubs like Bulawayo City, Harare City, How Mine and Triangle United will also fancy chances of winning the title with the likes of Chapungu, Bantu Rovers, Tsholotsho FC, Hwange, Black Rhinos and Yadah FC all hopeful to move away of the murky relegation waters.
Below are the opening weekend matches:
Bantu Rovers v Chicken Inn (Luveve): This is more of a “David and Goliath” affair, with Chicken Inn, 2015 champions eyeing a good start. Chicken Inn, affectionately known as the Gamecocks are hard-pressed for the title and their veteran gaffer Rahman Gumbo, who won championship titles with Highlanders at the beginning of the millennium will be hoping to get his mojo on.
On paper, Chicken Inn have a stronger squad, made up of experienced players compared to Rovers who have declared that their focus is on giving youngsters an opportunity to shine. Players to lead Gumbo’s search for maximum points today include goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze, defenders Moses Jackson, national team’s Teenage Hadebe and Divine Lunga. Newly signed defensive midfielder Innocent Mucheneka, Thabani Goredema, Chris Samakweri and Clemence Matawu are expected to keep strikers Obidiah Tarumbwa and Kudakwashe Gurure well supplied.
Chicken Inn face youthful Rovers whose only senior players are goalkeeper Ndodana Sibanda and defenders Tapiwa Khumbuyani and Dumisani “Fazo” Ndlovu.
Rovers have an apt tactician in Methembe Ndlovu, who will guide the team at a time when the club is still hunting for a permanent gaffer with a Caf A licence to take over.
A firm believer in young talent, Ndlovu will field among other youngsters Michael Kutsanzira, Kudzaishe Dzingwe, Nyasha Garayi, Shadreck Nyahwa, Lucky Ndlela, Stephen Chimusoro, Jileni Nsingo, Fortune Sibanda, Bukhosi Sibanda, Munyaradzi Chitambwe and Obriel Chirinda.
Both teams are in dire need of maximum points, with a victory for Rovers set to boost their confidence while a Chicken Inn win sets them on a right track in as far as the title race is concerned.
Tsholotsho FC v Hwange (Dulivhadzimu): Tsholotsho FC will want to start their season at their newly adopted home, Dulivhadzimu Stadium in Beitbridge with a positive result. Iziqolo zeZhwane who have twice survived relegation by a whisker elevated Farayi Tawachera to the position of head coach after Lizwe Sweswe left the club to join FC Platinum.
In their previous four meetings with Hwange, Sweswe led Tsholotsho to two victories, a draw and a defeat. The odds favour Tsholotsho but it won’t be an easy ride as Hwange who have just reunited with coach Nation Dube are eager for a perfect start.
Hwange who lost a number of players like Tonisani Sibelo, Mucheneka, Munyaradzi Mungadze, Gift Mbweti and Pritchard Mphelele will bank on veterans Gilbert Zulu and Obert “Cobra” Moyo to show the boys the ropes. Former Highlanders captain Felix Chindungwe and ex-Chicken Inn midfielder Canaan Nkomo are Tsholotsho’s major signings.
Chapungu v Triangle United (Ascot): It’s a clash of new coaches, both eager to impress their paymasters by winning their opening match. Tendai Chikuni who replaced John Nyikadzino will be hoping to get the better of seasoned gaffer Tawurayi Mangwiro who took over from David Mandigora and Biggie Zuze.
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.
Mangwiro said: “I’m pleased to note that my players are focused and their concentration level is high, which could lead to a great start.”
ZPC Kariba v How Mine (Nyamhunga): Last season How Mine collected four points out of a possible six against ZPC Kariba. The goldminers beat ZPC Kariba 2-0 in Bulawayo and played to a 0-0 in the return fixture at Nyamhunga.
Even though their clubs have given them a vote of confidence, both Chidzambwa and How Mine’s Kelvin Kaindu are hard-pressed for silverware, meaning that a positive result today will be key towards shaping their direction.
Former Highlanders and national team playmaker Peter “Rio” Moyo, ex-Zim Leopards striker Tinashe Makanda, utility players Milton Ncube and Mukundika Sakala, leftback Brian Mbiriri and goalkeeper Donovan Bernard are the gold miners’ trump cards.
Ngezi Platinum v Black Rhinos (National Sports Stadium): Ngezi Platinum have a little advantage going into this encounter having had an early season start because of their participation in the Caf Confederations Cup. The platinum miners have assembled a strong squad, which has a wealth of experience and are capable of causing major upsets. Ngezi Platinum have a brilliant goalkeeper in Nelson Chadya with defender Patson Jaure who captained Zimbabwe when they played a 0-0 draw against Zambia leading the backline. Captain Liberty Chakoroma, midfielders Xolisani Moyo and Walter Mukanga, leftback Qadr Amini and utility player MacClive Phiri are some of the players to watch from the platinum miners.
Black Rhinos 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.
l The best result that Rhinos can get from Ngezi is a draw.
Harare City v Yadah FC (National Sports Stadium): Harare City coach Mike Madzivanyika has declared his team ready for the Premiership newboys. He ruled out complacency ahead of the clash saying; “Yadah are coming from Division One and we cannot underrate them. We don’t know much about them, but we have prepared for that match. Our expectations are high. We hope it is going to be a good season for us. We want to finish as high as possible. Every team wants to win the championship”.
City’s newboys Malvern Gaki, Pritchard Mpelele, former ZPC Kariba forward Protasho Kabwe, Munyaradzi Sakho and Tinashe Vilakazi will be expected to immediately deliver at the Sunshine City boys.
Yadah, coached by Jairos Tapera who believes the anointing from club owner Prophet Walter Magaya will shake the topflight league, will be hoping that divine intervention work in their favour.
“We leave everything to God to help us with the anointing of 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.
Highlanders v Bulawayo City (Barbourfields): What a way for Bulawayo-based fans to start a season other than a derby!
A big turnout is expected at Barbourfields Stadium tomorrow with multitudes of Highlanders’ fans looking forward to their team’s perfect start. It won’t be easy for Bosso because Bulawayo City are also keen for a promising start, with their gaffer Mandla Mpofu stating that they are in the league to compete and will not give Highlanders points on a silver platter.
“We respect Highlanders for being a big club but on Sunday there won’t be any respect for those 90 minutes as we’re coming to fight for the points. We’re in the race to compete, not just to make up numbers and I’m sure everyone is in the right frame of mind,” Mpofu said.
Highlanders’ coach knows City’s capabilities and is wary of their rivals.
“This year they (Bulawayo City) are a much better team. We had a training game with them and they work very hard. Their players are good compared to last year, so I think they might surprise everybody,” said Akbay.
Bosso will be without injured playmaker Rahman Kutsanzira for tomorrow’s encounter, presenting youngster Brian Banda an opportunity to fill the void and be part of Highlanders’ midfield unit.
Goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda, eccentric striker Rodrick Mutuma, Prince Dube, 2016 Soccer Star of the Year finalist Peter Muduhwa and young Bukhosi Ncube are some of the players expected to lead Highlanders’ search for maximum points.
City’s hopes will be pinned on veterans Zephaniah Ngodzo, Mkhokheli Dube, Liberty Chirava, and Morris Kadzola, with young Sipho Ndlovu, Trevor Ndlovu and Humphrey Ncube also being vital cogs of the squad.
Dynamos v FC Platinum (National Sports Stadium): Rebuilding Dynamos are facing a tricky season opener against pre-season favourites FC Platinum who maintained the core of their squad, making a few additions. The platinum miners who have come close to winning the league championship in recent years only to falter at the final hurdle go to Harare seeking to return to Zvishavane with maximum points.
During pre-season, the Zvishavane giants were busy on the market and snatched the signatures of former Hwange striker Gift Mbweti, Talent Chawapihwa from ZPC Kariba, Brett Amidu (Dynamos) and Agrippa Murimba (Mutare City).
Dynamos coach Mutasa believes the opening match against FC Platinum is a good test for his new-look side.
The new-look squad has about 11 new faces among them Gift Saunyama, Cleopas Kapupirika, Emmanuel Mandiranga, Quality Kangadze, Phakamani Dube, Lincoln Zvasiya, goalkeeper Blessing Mwandimutsira and Cameroonian striker Ntouba Epoupa Christian Joel.
Shabanie Mine v Caps United (Maglas): Could this be baptism of fire for Premiership returnees Shabanie Mine?
Shabanie Mine face a side that is bubbling with confidence following their brilliant Caf Champions League run where they booked a place in the group stages of the continental clubs competition at the expense of TP Mazembe.
However, the Zvishavane side is not intimidated at all with their technical manager Taku Shariwa saying they draw inspiration from Caps United’s continental feat.
“David will be meeting Goliath on Sunday. We are going to play a team that beat the highly-fancied TP Mazembe and knocked them out of the Champions League. We are playing a team that has qualified for the Champions League group stage and to us they are an inspiration. They make us believe that everything is possible,” Shariwa told our Harare Bureau.
He vowed to give Caps United a good run for their money. Shabanie Mine’s new recruits William “Munhumutema” Mapfumo, Dylan Chivandire, Farai Mupasiri and Nelson Maziwisa are experienced enough to stand the heat against Caps United.
On the other hand, Caps United’s key men will be defensive midfielder Devon Chafa, goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda and Phinias Bamusi. Ronald “Rooney” Chitiyo is also expected to be a thorn in the flesh for Shabanie Mine.
Article Source: The Chronicle