It’s early days yet, goes the cliché. The players are still struggling for match fitness and the real clashes are yet to come, but Match Day One of the 2014 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League was not without its thrills and spills, with indications pointing to a potential surprise-filled marathon.
The 2013 season could be best remembered for the story of Harare City which, from the blues, nearly dethroned champions Dynamos, while the exploits of debutants and Mbada Diamonds Cup finalists How Mine and Triangle, who shrugged off early season relegation woes to book a place in the top eight of the table, remain the major surprises of the past season.
Each new season comes with its own package, unearths its own gems and usually carries a certain Cinderella story for some.
The 2014 season arrives when the football family is pregnant with optimism while glitz, goals and glamour are what defines an exciting season.
Although the past three consecutive races have been decided on the last day, in typical photo finishes that captivated the Premiership followers, the general feeling has been that today’s game lacks the intrigue, competitiveness and the sparkle that characterised top flight battles of the 80s and 90s.
Goals, the major reason why fans pay to watch matches, have become scarce, especially in the last five years, and the strikers kick off the season with a huge challenge to break the 20-goal mark in an era where generally the total number of goals scored per season has alarmingly dwindled in comparison with the goal-scoring spree of the 90s.
The Premiership strikers have struggled to breach the 20-goal barrier since the turn of the new millennium, with only four gunmen — Zenzo Moyo (Highlanders), Evans Chikwaikwai (Njube Sundowns), Nyasha Mushekwi (Caps United) and Norman Maroto (Gunners) — the selected few who have surpassed the feat.
This has left the Premiership goal-starved, with the average goals-per-match subsiding to just below two goals in an era where championship-winning teams struggle to score 50 goals the whole season, a far cry from the record 79 goals banged by DeMbare in the 1996 season despite finishing second to Caps United.
While the 90s witnessed over 700 goals every season, nowadays fans can only celebrate just over 550 goals for the entire 240 games played during the nine-month marathon.
The last five years have been worse off, as epitomised by the 2011 season during which a paltry 518 goals were scored at an average of 2.1 goals per game, while the league’s top scorer, Roderick Mutuma, capped the mediocrity with just 14 goals to his credit.
Some football pundits could argue that today’s defenders are more tactical and tighter, a notion disputed by 1996 top goal scorer Alois Bunjira and former Warriors midfield supremo Ronald “Gidiza” Sibanda, who reckon strikers of today “just lack the killer instinct and composure.”
“Scoring is an art and I think the strikers we have today do not have the technique, composure and that killer instinct that we witnessed back in the 90s or 80s.
“Some of them are not dedicated, they do not take time to perfect their techniques and it’s sad that we no longer have players who stay behind after the normal training session working on their individual target,” says Bunjira, whose 23 goals propelled Caps United to their second-ever championship in 1996.
“Sometimes goal scoring is natural and an intrinsic skill.
“We can’t say the defenders are more tactical when we still have top strikers worldwide banging more than 40 goals per season,” chipped in ‘‘Gidiza’’.
As usual, the 2014 season is expected to usher onto the scene unheralded players, while surprise acts cannot be ruled out if Week One was anything to go by.
Virtually unknown before 2013, a number of promising players surfaced last year in a season that ushered in such talents as Caps United left back and Rookie Player of the Year Ronald Pfumbidzai, surprise keeper of the year Herbert Rusawo of Black Rhinos, diminutive Warriors linkman Pascal Manhanga from Triangle and the free-scoring Steven Sibanda, then with Buffaloes.
Could 2014 be the year for the “faceless” yet talented players to rise to prominence? If so then the likes of DC Academy product and Chiredzi FC intelligent defender Jimmy Dzingai, rising Bantu Rovers linkman Nqobizitha Masuku (who has had trial stints in Europe), FC Platinum’s promising winger Marshall Mudehwe, and Chapungu’s holding midfielder Ngonidzashe Murisa are the greenhorns to watch out for.
The biggest stories of Week One —where 19 goals were scored — saw perennial pre-season favourites Highlanders, Caps United and FC Platinum all drop points against newly promoted sides, while last season’s third-placed and late chokers Harare City suffered the worst possible start.
Whether Moses Chunga’s Chiredzi FC, Gweru-based airmen Chapungu and the veterans’ haven ZPC Kariba will live up to their opening day showing remains to be seen.
The answers will unfold as the 2014 package unwraps.
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