Eddie Chikamhi Sports Reporter—
FC PLATINUM’S brilliant run in the league championship race faces the ultimate test when they come head-to-head with rivals Dynamos in a top-of-the-table Castle Lager Premiership clash at Mandava on Saturday. The platinum miners recently struck a rich vein of form and have been on the rise following a fine run which has seen them going 12 games without defeat.
Norman Mapeza’s men have not lost a match since May 10 when they went down 1-0 to the Glamour Boys in a tightly-contested match at Rufaro. But, after beating one of the early pacesetters Triangle away at Gibbo in their last match, it seems they have announced their candidature as one of the dark horses in this year’s marathon.
The victory over Triangle lifted them into third place, just one point behind the defending champions, who are in second position. Chicken Inn lead the race with 43 points while Dynamos and FC Platinum are battling on 39 and 38 points. However, DeMbare team manager Richard Chihoro yesterday said FC Platinum should brace for a tough outing since it was now dog-eat-dog in the campaign.
He said Dynamos have good memories playing in Zvishavane and were positive of a good outing this weekend. They have won a number of big matches at Mandava, including that unforgettable 1-0 win in the penultimate game of the 2011 season, when the Zvishavane side needed just a draw to effectively seal the title.
If FC Platinum had forced that draw, it would have given coach Rahman Gumbo the league title and ensured that, for the first time since Independence, the championship would have been won by a team that is not resident in the two major cities of Harare and Bulawayo.
It’s now almost 50 years since a team from outside the countries two major cities, St Paul’s Musamo, won the league championship. “Obviously it’s game on. We are now in the final lap and the race is fast winding down. So we need to be on our toes always since all teams are now fighting harder for the points,” said Chihoro, a key technical member of the Glamour Boys’ recent dominance of the domestic championship.
“But our results at Mandava over the years have not been that bad. We are always happy playing at Mandava because it feels like our second home ground.
“It’s just like playing at Barbourfields. We feel at home. We have a good support base there and we only need our supporters to rally behind us and be the twelfth man.
“I am sure we can get a result there if all things go according to plan.” Triangle, winless in the last three assignments, appear to have lost steam in the race but they have an opportunity to redeem themselves when they face lowly Whawha at Ascot on Sunday.
Giants Highlanders will start life without fired coach Bongani Mafu when they travel to the capital for a date against Harare City on Sunday under the tutelage of veteran gaffer Cosmas Zulu.
The former champions have been struggling this season and they need to recover from a poor run of three successive defeats at the hands of FC Platinum, Whawha and Chicken Inn or else they might see themselves being sucked deeper into relegation woes.
CAPS United have also re-hired their son Lloyd Chitembwe to get the club back on its feet following a number of subdued performances in recent weeks under Mark Mathe.
The club’s chiefs, however, stuck with Mathe, who is highly regarded at the Green Machine, saying that his input will serve the club well if he has someone operating as his boss. The CAPS United bosses believe that Mathe is technically brilliant but was probably not yet ripe to be given sole leadership of a team as big as the Green Machine in an environment, in the capital, where he was working for the first time.
Mathe impressed his employers as an assistant to Englishman, Mark Harrison, who also hailed the former Highlanders’ caretaker gaffer as a very shrewd coach who, one day, will transform himself into an outstanding gaffer on the domestic scene. To his credit, Mathe said he did not believe that his employers’ decision to hire Chitembwe, and re-assign him to his old role as assistant coach, was an insult to his qualities.
Instead, he told his players last week that Chitembwe was a more experienced coach who needed to be supported because the eventual goal was to turn the Green Machine into a succcessful unit.
CAPS United will host Buffaloes at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday. Makepekepe are currently sitting on seventh position on the log standings with 30 points, 13 behind the leaders Chicken Inn, after 21 games but — if they had not dropped seven points in their last three games — they would have been firmly in the title race.
Harare City v Highlanders (Rufaro), Chicken Inn v ZPC Kariba (Luveve), FC Platinum v Dynamos (Mandava), Flame Lily v Hwange (Lafarge)
Whawha v Triangle (Ascot), Dongo Sawmill v Chapungu (Vengere), CAPS United v Buffaloes (NSS), Tsholotsho v How Mine (White City)