Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE width of the crossbar might have cruelly denied him another spectacular goal on Sunday for his personal collection of vintage strikes, but even after playing for just half-an-hour, Oscar Machapa showed why he remains the undisputed King of the Harare Derby.
In the past half-a-dozen years, in which the Glamour Boys have imposed themselves on the Harare Derby, no player has made a defining impact — either side of the Great Divide — than the giant wingman who has provided some of the lasting memories.
Tawanda Muparati might have come close, scoring the winner in two of the three Harare Derbies between 2011 and 2012, but in terms of sheer individual brilliance and fighting on both fronts of the enemy, Machapa is in his own league.
The latest duel between the capital’s two biggest football clubs might have been a dull affair, for large parts of this contest, but with just 10 minutes left in regulation time, Machapa produced a moment of the kind of individual brilliance on which the Harare Derby built its huge patronage and reputation, as a classic showdown.
With the game delicately balanced at 1-1 and there for the taking for whoever produced that one last push for victory, Machapa — his fresher legs giving him the edge of the tiring defence — produced the eye-catching moment of brilliance that almost won the game for the Glamour Boys.
It could have been a very cruel blow, indeed, for a CAPS United side that fought bravely to repair some of the damage inflicted on their club by the chaos in Bulawayo on the eve of the Easter weekend as the players forced the abandonment of their league match against How Mine after a fallout with the team’s management. But, had Machapa’s thunderous missile just dipped a few centimetres before its collision and ugly kiss, with the crossbar, it could have produced any early contender for the Goal of the Season and provided the headlines for a game that delivered very little on the pitch.
The former CAPS United man, who spent some time in South Africa, was introduced by coach David Mandigora shortly after the Green Machine had taken the lead at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday when Malawian international, George Nyirenda, volleyed into the top corner of the net in the 57th minute.
And, after his team had equalised, courtesy of a disputed penalty that CAPS United questioned when Ronald Chitiyo went down inside the box, with defender Stephen Makatuka’s howler providing Dynamos with an avenue down the right channel and leaving ‘keeper Victor Twaliki an exposed man, Machapa produced the special moment of the game.
Collecting the ball just on the halfway mark, Machapa charged into the left channel of his team’s attack, running at pace, suddenly switched direction as he cut inside, with three defenders blocking his way and once he had created a pocket of space for himself, as one of the defenders charged in for the block, he unleashed a venomous shot — from way outside the penalty area — which moved in the air.
For a moment, the National Sports Stadium held its breath, the pace and height of the ball clearing the last human obstacle, a diving Twaliki at full stretch and as the DeMbare fans rose in anticipation of a wonder goal that would have been a fitting winner for any match and their CAPS United counterparts cursed their fate, time appeared to stand still.
However, the ball crashed against the crossbar and Machapa’s golden moment was stolen from him by the width of the frame of the goal.
But, he is a man who has always risen to the big occasion, in the Harare Derby and was the architect of CAPS United’s last league win over their biggest rivals, an impressive 2-0 win on Easter Monday, in April 2009.
On that day, which has remained etched in the memories of the CAPS United fans who were privileged to be witnesses, Machapa ran riot down the right channel, now and again attacking Dynamos leftback Sam Mutenheri and, in the process, virtually writing the epitaph on the tombstone of the defender’s top-flight football career.
Like the immortal Stanley Matthews of England, Machapa kept doing the same trick, dropping the shoulders as if he was cutting inside and then changing direction, without breaking stride, to storm to the outside and although Mutenheri knew what was coming, he never got to grips with the artistry to stop him.
By the time the Dynamos defender realised he had been fooled, not once, not twice, but on a number of occasions in that second half, Machapa would be running alone into acres of unguarded space, the silence and sympathy of Vietnam providing little comfort for their beaten man, while those on the northern stand thundered in both approval and expectation.
And, as if on cue, the cross would be delivered, right where Nyasha Mushekwi prowled in anticipation, and twice that afternoon, the giant forward delivered the killer punches with the ruthlessness one would expect from a centre forward keen to make his mark on such a big stage.
Machapa and Mushekwi didn’t play another Harare Derby, their exploits that day and that season, helping hand them a ticket to the South African Premiership, before Machapa returned four years later and, shocked those who had immortalised his contribution in the Derby victory in 2009, by joining Dynamos.
His first Derby, in his comeback match at Rufaro, came in September 2013 and he turned back the hands of time with a match-winning performance, this time in the blues of Dynamos, with a wonder goal that decided a close contest.
Just as he had done, against Mutenheri, there was that drop of the shoulders, down the right flank, but instead of cutting outside, as many wingers would do, he went inside, and the move eliminated Ronald Pfumbidzai, created enough space for Machapa to swing his left boot and the result was a venomous shot that swerved in the air as it arrowed into the top corner.
Goalkeeper Tafadzwa Dube had no chance.
“It’s my first goal against my former team and I am happy,” Machapa told The Herald after his match-winning goal. I couldn’t lose a Derby as I have said I had never lost a Derby and, worse still, against my former team, so, the job had to be done.”
When you play as well as he does on the big occasion, the gods of football probably make sure that you don’t deserve to end on the losing side of the Derby.