STEVE Mangongo is expecting a tough encounter when he leads Mashonaland Eagles into the final of the Twenty20 cricket league competition against his former team Mountaineers at Harare Sports Club tomorrow. Mangongo was the coach when Mountaineers beat Mashonaland Eagles in the inaugural Stanbic bank Twenty20 tournament in 2010 and believes the Mutare-based outfit could give them their most difficult test in the tournament this season.
Eagles have had a magnificent run in the shorter version of the game this year to finish top of the table unbeaten at the conclusion of the eight round-robin matches.
But history between the two sides tips the scales in favour of Mountaineers, as they have been a difficult opponent in the other finals of the T20 competitions they played before.
The teams have met twice in the Stanbic Bank T20 final and Mountaineers won both titles at the same venue.
And Mangongo believes their opponents should not be taken lightly despite the absence of their key batsman Hamilton Masakadza, who is playing competitive cricket in the Bangladesh Premier League.
"This reminds me of the days when I was still at Mountaineers.
"We played two finals against Eagles in the T20 tournament and the one day competitions and won both.
"So we are very mindful that Mountaineers are a very dangerous outfit because once they get into a final they tend to do very well.
"I have coached a number of players who are still there and some of them might have a point or two to prove against their former coach.
"So this may actually make this game the most difficult one this season," said Mangongo.
Mountaineers finished second in the league competition to book a place in the final, with three victories and three losses to their account.
The Mountain Goats, who are buoyed by a 116-run victory over Southern Rocks in the four-day Logan Cup yesterday, will be hoping to transform their form to the short version.
They have potential match-winners in such players as their captain Tino Mawoyo, Timycen Maruma, Mark Pettini, Kevin Kasuza and Greg Lamb.
Their bowling department appears in good health with the availability of their players like Shingi Masakadza, Tendai Chatara and Natsai M'shangwe.
But the hosts received a boost this week with the arrival of their strike bowler Kyle Jarvis from New Zealand.
Eagles have a strong line-up that includes the likes of Sikandar Raza, Chamu Chibhabha, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Cephas Zhuwawo, Tino Mutombodzi and Ray Price.
Mangongo said they are looking forward to continue with their good run in the T20 competition.
"We have been working hard in preparing our team. Because it's a final, we have gone a step further by organising two warm-up games at Takashinga to give our players more game time. This just shows how serious we are and I am very encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by our guys.
"It's just overwhelming. They know that they have been doing so well in the shorter version of the game and they would want to finish the final on a high note," he said.
Both teams will welcome back their players who have been released from the national team camp currently preparing for the West Indies tour.
Meanwhile, Eagles chief executive Vimbai Mapukute yesterday said all was now set for the hosting of the final and expressed joy at the coming in of Castle Lager to sponsor the match.
"Everything is now in place and we are ready in terms of administration and all groundwork.
"If you look at it, these are the two top sides in this version judging from their performance this season and with that in mind it is only fair for us to give this match the status it deserves.
"So we have secured a deal with our cricket friends who include Castle Lager, among others, to make this day a fun-filled event suitable for the whole family.
"We are just hoping the weather will smile on us as we look forward to this great day," said Mapukute.