AFTER a week hiatus to pave way for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers where Zimbabwe moved mountains to grind out four points from the back-to-back clashes against highly fancied Democratic Republic of Congo in Group G, local football fans will be expecting the excitement to carry on this weekend as the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League action returns with big battles expected at both ends of the log table.
BY HENRY MHARA/TERRY MADYAUTA
At the top, the battle for supremacy has been reduced to a two-horse race between the platinum powered teams, FC Platinum and Ngezi Platinum Stars.
It’s the former who hold all the aces, as they have a five-point lead against their nemesis. They just need three wins and a draw from the last five rounds of matches to wrap up the race, and thereby successfully defending the title they narrowly won last year. It’s for coach Norman Mapeza’s men to lose now.
The defending champions are away to relegation threatened Nichrut in the first match of their run-in which also include games against Chicken Inn, Shabanie Mine, Ngezi Platinum Stars and Highlanders.
Mapeza is expecting a bruising battle against a stubborn opponent who has been punching above its weight in recent matches. In the last eight matches, promoted Nichrut, who are fighting with their backs behind the wall, have lost just once and are desperate to win this game to enhance their chances of survival.
“We have been having challenges every time after going for these breaks. Breaks kill momentum, and that is what happened the last time when we played against Dynamos. We were cruising and going for the break had a negative bearing on our momentum,” Mapeza reckons.
However, Mapeza revealed an undertaking he made with the club where he promised his team will not lose a game against a promoted side.
Interestingly, FC Platinum lost to Bulawayo Chiefs earlier in the season.
“It’s the same mentality, a principle, and that will never change. We will not lose to a promoted team. I agreed with the team long back and that still stands. There is no dropping of points at this stage, we have to win this game. I don’t care how we are going to get the points, but what I want a win the game,” he said.
The log leaders know if they drop points today, their lead could be trimmed by a trailing Ngezi Platinum, who have, however, shown signs of cracking under pressure.
They lost two of their last three matches, both against relegation threatened sides Yadah and Bulawayo City. The defeats cost coach Tonderai Ndiraya his job, in a move that looked ill-advised. Life under Ndiraya begins today with a home match against Chapungu United at Baobab Stadium, with the Mhondoro-Ngezi side looking to win this match, and all the other remaining, and at the same time hoping for FC Platinum to drop points along the way.
While the battle at the top is heating up, it’s even hotter at the bottom end of the table with eight clubs, including former champions Dynamos, involved in a relegation scrap.
Of the eight, bottom-placed Shabanie Mine, Bulawayo City and Mutare City’s fate is seemingly sealed as they need to win all their remaining matches, and hope that the other five lose theirs, something highly impossible.
That leaves giants Dynamos, Chapungu, Nichrut, Bulawayo Chiefs and Yadah, currently sitting on the relegation cut-off points, fighting to avoid the last relegation slot.
Castle Lager premier soccer league Matchday 30 fixtures
Today: ZPC Kariba v Caps United (Nyamhunga), Ngezi Platinum Stars v Chapungu (Baobab), Nichrut v FC Platinum (Ascot), Chicken Inn v Bulawayo Chiefs (Luveve)
Tomorrow: Mutare City Rovers v Yadah (Vengere), Dynamos v Black Rhinos (Rufaro), Triangle v Herentals (Gibbo), Highlanders v Bulawayo City (Barbourfields), Shabanie Mine v Harare City (Maglas)