Moffat Mungazi Footy Footnotes

AS largely expected, the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League 2019 season turned out to be another roller-coaster for the clubs and fan base alike. From champions FC Platinum defending their crown; Dynamos continuing to wallow in the wilderness; Highlanders’ remarkable recovery to CAPS United bottling it; novices finding the going tough among the big boys and coaching casualties, the campaign could not pass without some major highlights, some of which we review below . . .

Triple Refined Platinum

FC Platinum laid down a brutal marker of how and why they continue to dominate the domestic football landscape, being crowned kings for the third time on the bounce. The Zvishavane miners are showing no signs of relenting, even after the departure of history-making gaffer Norman Mapeza. Albeit failing to match (2019: 62 points; scored 34 against 15 for +19 goals) their own past tallies of the previous two championship-winning seasons (2018: 78 points; scored 52 against 14 for +38 goals and 2017: 72 points; scored 40 against 15 for +25 goals) it was still good enough to get the job done for Lizwe Sweswe and his troops.

This makes Pure Platinum Play the fourth best team in the land in terms of the league titles won, only behind Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United and these are also the only clubs to have successfuly retained the title since the turn of the millennium. Also, they become only the third club to have won it on three successive occasions after Dynamos (2011-2014) and Highlanders (1998-1999 to 2002).

Ordinary DeMbare

It just cannot come together for Dynamos. The Harare giants are receding to new low levels. From the Nyika Yese Iri Kufara craze, which ephemerally promised paradise with a runners-up spot in 2017, DeMbare have now turned into a peripheral figure that continues to stand strangely aloof in challenging for the domestic game’s biggest prize. Even the Rauya Gen’a mantra, touted as 2018’s renewal project, just did not see this squad arrive and gatecrash the big stage as they finished an unfamiliar 11th; just four places above the last relegation slot. The lion mascot on the badge of their shirts simply could neither roar nor bite. Then 2019 has seen them finishing a disappointing ninth, a massive 18 points off the pace. That they were totally out of the picture for the championship tells a damning story. Such is how the mighty have fallen from grace to grass that the Glamour Boys are losing their grandeur, becoming virtually crass and only as good as mid-tablers.

A Doddering Dodo

When he assumed the reins following his erstwhile boss Lloyd Chitembwe’s exit, CAPS United coach Darlington Dodo took off with promise in his new role but somewhere down the road the wheels somehow came off; especially as they approached the finishing line. Going into the last two rounds of matches in pole position, he and his charges lost leadership of the league � dropping all crucial points in a two-pronged Platinum test � and the chance to clinch the championship inevitably tailed off. The doddering Dodo could not turn himself into a darling with the Green Machine faithful, doodling Makepekepe’s run in and title tilt.

Bosso Boss Chibuku Super Cup

They might have finished sixth in the championship race but Highlanders have got everything to smile about, making up for a disappointing league campaign by coming right in the knockout competition. The Chibuku Super Cup gold medallists, winning their first major silverware since lifting the NetOne-sponsored EasyCall Cup in 2015, were full value for the accolade given the manner they went about business in the tournament: striker Prince Dube scored in every one of the four rounds while skipper Ariel Sibanda did not concede on their way to defeating Dynamos (1-0), FC Platinum (3-0), ZPC Kariba (1-0) and Ngezi Platinum Stars (1-0) for the trophy. The talismanic Dube was simply the competition’s Prince charming as Bosso bossed their way. Crucially, the triumph gives Highlanders the momentum to build on going forward.

Misfiring Marksmen

The league’s misfiring marksmen were found wanting again as most of them were below par. They have, for the umpteenth time, failed to hit the 20-goal mark as Norman Maroto’s (22) near-decade record still stands. Ex-Chicken Inn striker Clive Augusto top-scored in a season he played only half the campaign before switching to South Africa. Those who stayed behind were playing catch-up with the player who last turned out in local action on August 10 and could not equal his haul of 14 goals in 17 games. Interestingly, these blunt strikers were unable to better the goal-scoring count set by Rodwell Chinyengetere and Dominic Chungwa (both 17) in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Underdogs pull their weight

Minnows Bulawayo Chiefs, Yadah Stars and Herentals, after battling for dear life for much of the campaign, finally managed a gasp and preserved their Premiership statuses. Huffing and puffing all season, they finished in the same company as they were all level on 41 points and tied on the same position. They survived to fight another season. Newcomers Manica Diamonds defied the odds to finish fifth in only their debut season, above such traditional powerhouses as Dynamos and Highlanders.

Hello and Goodbye

This campaign has been unkind to the newly-promoted clubs. Of the four elevated into the top-flight league from the respective second-tier divisions, only Manica Diamonds stayed up while the rest went down. As the Gem Boys, Mushowani Stars and TelOne were doing this for the first time ever, Hwange’s been there, done that aura � having been part of the Premiership cast before � could not do the trick for them; suffering the same fate as Chapungu. After just cutting their football teeth among the big boys, the rookies found the chewing difficult and could not, therefore, survive.

Special Mentions

It would be utterly remiss to conclude this write-up without any special mentions. Goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda, midfielder Joel Ngodzo and winger Phenias Bamusi were part of the 2019 Soccer Stars of the Year finalists cast after making the cut again in 2018. They repeated the heroic feat as protagonists, joining such players as Kelvin Moyo, Rodwell Chinyengetere (both FC Platinum) and Clement Matawu (Chicken Inn) as players who enjoy that distinction in the recent past seasons.

Problem child Denver Mukamba proved he can dazzle and be a darling again as he showed signs of coming back to good form when he joined Chapungu mid-season to roll his rehabilitation ball. Although he could not save the airmen from crashing, he, however, played a starring role; weighing in with some important goals.

Highlanders suddenly sprang to sprightly spirit following the appointment of Dutch coach Hendrik Pieter de Jongh, to end a trophy drought and claw their way up the log standings from the relegation quagmire.

Rodwell Dhlakama’s kiss of life on Ngezi Platinum Stars following a stuttering spell under the unconvincing Erol Akaby saved their season, crash-landing them to Chibuku Super Cup silver medals and a fourth place finish in the league.

Changing coaches appears to have worked wonders for Manica Diamonds, Ngezi Platinum Stars and, to some extent, Harare City while the same cannot be said for TelOne.

If it is about football that you care let’s share the cheer because we are made for the game, mad about the game!

Source: African News Agency