THE mainland Vodacom Premier League entered its 17th round on Wednesday with title hopefuls Azam once again proving their credentials as strong title contenders after thrashing JKT Ruvu 4-0 that pulled them joint top with Young Africans.
After missing out on the top flight title last season, Azam are back in the hunt for their first ever Premier League title, battling toe-to-toe with Yanga. Wednesday's routine win over JKT Ruvu, their fourth on the trot, took Azam's points tally to 36 this season and Stewart Hall's team for a second time in two weeks enjoy an equal share of top spot with Yanga.
The gap between the two top sides and their closest challengers, defending champions Simba, currently stands at five points. The holders have conceded two draws in their previous four games that has played a significant role in their table position.
While there are still about nine matches to go until the end of the season it probably isn't wise to suggest that the title will be decided between the top two teams. But the question is whether Azam can defy the odds and beat Yanga in the title race. As it stands, only Yanga, who have played a game less and boast a superior goal difference, look the main obstacle towards Azam's quest for the domestic silverware.
As Yanga face Azam at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam for one of the most intriguing matches of the season, no doubt the outcome will be pivotal in deciding who is going to win the league this season. Both teams are riding high at the moment and it will largely depend on who shows up.
But it is definitely that Yanga present an utmost challenge for Azam, who still remember a 2-0 defeat when the two sides met in their first round encounter. Yanga are still favourites in the title race. They have a game on hand, have got experience and know how to finish the race, but Azam have become a force to reckon with in the last few seasons.
Hall hit the jackpot by adding few top players to his squad during the mini-transfer window. Newcomers Brian Umony, Humphrey Mieno, and Joackins Atudo have proved valuable additions in the Azam squad.
They are certainly a team in ascendancy and considering the consistency they have enjoyed since the start of the second round as well as the ruthless goal creating and scoring the team generate, it's hard to overlook their credentials to break up Simba and Yanga's dominance.
The Hall's demolition gang mauled Kagera Sugar 3-1, defeated Toto African 3-1 and whipped Mtibwa Sugar 4-1 in their opening three second round games and went on to record their first victory in a continental tournament following their 3-1 win over El Nasir in a Confederations Cup.
The city tycoons might have missed on the title last time around to Simba, but made a huge step after qualifying for the continental club championship, CAF Confederation Cup at the expense of Yanga. And they are headed for a repeat of that feat this season at the expense of reigning champions, Simba.
In their current form, Azam finally look set to break up Simba and Yanga's hegemony in Premier League. But the litmus test comes in the form of Ernest Brandts' side tomorrow and if they can pass it, who will bet against them going all the way to league glory after six seasons in the top flight football.