17 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Champions' Showtime


THE curtain finally comes down on the grueling race for the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League crown pitting the country's biggest clubs Dynamos and Highlanders tomorrow. It has been a breath-taking affair which will only be decided on the final day as log leaders Dynamos face relegated side Hardbody at Ascot while Bosso wind up a spirited campaign against another Division One-bound side Blue Rangers at Gwanzura.

DeMbare, who got a boost yesterday when the Commercial Arbitration Centre ruled in their favour in the disputed match against Hwange, are on the verge of lifting an historic back-to-back titles following last year's success when they lifted the league and cup double by winning the inaugural Mbada Diamonds Cup.

The Harare giants edged closer to a dream season when they beat Buffaloes during the midweek to take their points tally to 68.

But Highlanders ensured the race would be decided on the final day for the third year running when they emerged 1-0 victors over FC Platinum to maintain a two-point difference going into the final round of the season.

The Dynamos technical team yesterday said they were looking forward to a strong finish in Gweru although highlighting the need to be cautious against the hosts.

"We will only talk about the championship after 90 minutes on Sunday. Right now the focus is on how to collect maximum points against Hardbody," said assistant coach, Tichaona Diya.

"We have emphasised to the players not to take this game for granted.

"Hardbody are sinking and we all know a draw will be enough to win us the championship, but that is not reason enough to underrate our opponents.

"So we have made it clear that we are not going to Gweru for a draw but for an outright win," he added.

Hardbody were demoted this week following their 2-0 defeat to relegation fighters Black Mambas.

The Gweru side, who stand as the last hurdle between Dynamos and their destiny, will be seeking to stop a poor run of three defeats in succession.

They even wanted to have their match played at Rufaro, to boost their coffers, but the PSL leadership turned that down.

Rangers, who take on Bosso tomorrow, even tried to have that match moved to Barbourfields but that, too, was rejected.

DeMbare have shown over the years that they are difficult customers once they eye the finishing line.

The Glamour Boys are not likely to tamper with the team that started the last two games against Buffaloes and CAPS United in the Mbada Diamonds Cup.

Veteran midfielder Murape Murape could be the only worry as the coaches appeared concerned with his fitness.

Zambian midfielder Arthur Kaseloki is also out after he asked himself to be excused to concentrate on his educational commitments.

There is good news in the camp, nonetheless, with the return of Cliff Sekete who missed the last game because of suspension for the three yellow cards he picked up in previous matches.

DeMbare have enjoyed good form of late with their predatory striker Simba Sithole finding the target in all of their last five outings.

Roderick Mutuma, who appears to have shaken off the bad boy image, has also seen his game improve with some goals to show for it.

DeMbare have had one of the best defence this season and they hope the duo of central defenders Partson Jaure and Gift Bello will continue with their good work tomorrow to provide cover for goalkeeper George Chigova.

"Everyone in the team wants to be involved and we will carry all the 25 players to Gweru and then announce the playing team a few minutes before the game.

"There is a lot to play for and we want to rekindle the spirit of oneness in the camp so that whatever happens we will be together.

"Of course we may win the championship if we beat Hardbody so we want to celebrate the success together.

"We are also encouraging our supporters to come in their numbers and show that we are one big family.

We have been together since the beginning of the season and we still need their support to finish what we began together," said Diya.

Although it appears Dynamos go into the last round matches as odds on favourites, Highlanders are not giving up the fight easily.

Star midfielder Masimba Mambare yesterday said Bosso are looking to collect maximum points against Rangers and hope results go otherwise in Gweru.

Highlanders, on 66 points, are still defiant that the league could go either way.

They have had one of their best outings this season, which included a record 23-match unbeaten streak and could be disappointed if they finish the season empty-handed.

Mambare hailed the competition they have had with Dynamos this season and still maintained a positive attitude ahead of the decisive game at Gwanzura tomorrow.

"It has been quite an exciting season to have two big teams competing for the championship like that up to the last day," said Mambare.

"And considering that Highlanders' performances have below par in previous seasons, I think this has been one of the best campaigns in years and it needed to be rewarded with silverware. We need to do it for our fans because they have been wonderful," said Mambare.

Highlanders will be seeking to draw inspiration from the first leg match in which they hammered Rangers 4-0 at Barbourfields to set the tone for a good season.

The Bulawayo giants have a clean bill of health which allows coach Kevin Kaindu to choose the best from the talents at his disposal.

Bosso beat FC Platinum 1-0 at the midweek to keep the pressure on Dynamos.

Defender Eric Mudzingwa will return tomorrow after missing the last game because of suspension.

Mambare believes the Highlanders dream is still on although not entirely putting his confidence on Hardbody to do the job for them.

Highlanders will be hoping to capitalise on Rangers' defensive frailties as Partson Ndabambi's men have suddenly turned porous in their last few games after they had appeared to put their fight for survival in order.

Their opponents Rangers have a sorry record, in the last four games, in which they conceded 18 goals. Rangers are coming from a 7-1 defeat by Hwange.

"We have to fight until the last minute. I believe all things are possible. Remember we were at one time on top of the table and it took only one game to be dislodged.

"So we have to play our part as we have done in all the games and then see what happens after the 90 minutes of these two games.

"We played Hardbody at Ascot two weeks ago and although they are relegated they are a good side. But in my opinion Dynamos have an upper hand in this match.

"I think we are not also going to have an easy game against Rangers. Remember these teams are relegated and such teams have a tendency to want to prove something against the big teams as they go down. But we will take this game as we have done with all the other games during the campaign," said Mambare.

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