There is something that tells one the 2014 Castle Premier Soccer League might turn out to be one of the most exciting seasons in recent years.
A number of expectations and questions linger in the minds of millions of Premiership football followers as the season readies to fly off the blocks next weekend.
Will Dynamos maintain their dominance, can Highlanders finally dethrone DeMbare after three years of agonising near misses or will Lloyd Mutasa’s influence finally deliver the title for ambitious FC Platinum.
Can last season’s surprise packets Harare City retain their place on the Premiership’s top table, or has the time arrived for sleeping giants Caps United to reclaim their lost pride, are some of the major talking points characterising local football debates.
Delta Beverages have upped the stakes in the nine-month marathon, guaranteeing a $100 000 cheque for the winners — $30 000 more than what DeMbare pocketed last year while the return of the Chibuku Super Cup has added more impetus.
The Premiership might miss the lyrical flavour offered by Gishon “Gizha” Ntini who was sacked at Triangle, but an able replacement is guaranteed thanks to the return of Moses “Bambo” Chunga, whose newly promoted Chiredzi FC are glowing with confidence in the Lowveld.
A hectic offseason transfer market was witnessed as contestants jostled for players in a bid to repair their ailing engines while for some it was a near overhaul.
Harare City once again emerged with some of the best deals from the off-season market, FC Platinum is boasting a deadly strike force, and Makepekepe moved a step towards sanity by appointing a highly promising board of intellects while perennial bridesmaids Bosso retained the bulk of their 2013 season squad — setting the stage for another gruelling and close contest for the crown.
Since 2011, the race has been decided on goal difference and 2014 looks no different given the entrance of more title contenders into the ring.
In 2011, it was a two-horse race between Dynamos and FC Platinum, the following year Bosso stretched holders DeMbare to the limit and the emergence of a fierce Harare City last season added more glitz to the ever-intriguing Castle Lager Premiership.
The four automatically kick off the season with the favourites tags dangling around their necks, but ruling out Taurai Mangwiro’s Caps United and CAF Confederations Cup surprise packets How Mine could be perilous.
The arrival of Malawian import Ishmael Thindwa, a highly rated striker who has shown glimpses of precision in the off-season, linkman Madaliso Mwanza, who was lured from Zambia’s Mpila League, the availability of last season’s mainstay players Tendai Samanja and influential goalie Tafadzwa Dube has compensated for the loss of a number of key actors like Benson Maglasi, Rahman Kutsanzira and Arnold Chiveya.
There are some who believe DeMbare’s impotent strike force and lurking boardroom disturbances could be the champions’ greatest undoing.
Simba Sithole, Washington Pakamisa and Clive Kawinga will most likely miss a number of matches due to injury while Patrick Khumbula’s goal-scoring instincts are highly questionable.
Typical slow starters DeMbare will be without rock-solid defender Partson Jaure in their opening six matches as the Warriors defender is still serving a seven match ban and the departure of his central defensive partner for the past two years Gift Bello, could put the Glamour Boys’ rearguard to a stern test.
Although a top three finish sounds routine for the Glamour Boys, their three-year stranglehold of the title is heavily threatened by a revived FC Platinum and perennial campaigners Bosso who despite losing match winning player Masimba Mambare, have managed to retain the core of the squad that won a silver medal last year.
Bosso have added more firepower by enlisting the services of 2013 Soccer Star of the Year finalist Charles Sibanda, the trickery Kuda Mahachi (on a half season loan) and the highly rated linkman Valentine Ndaba.
Although FC Platinum coach Mutasa has remained modest despite his team’s impressive shows in the off-season, where they beat Bosso twice and clinched the CG Msipa Trophy, a cast that includes Njabulo “JB” Ncube, last season’s top scorer at Buffaloes Steven Sibanda, the bustling Tarisai Rukanda and Nelson Maziwisa sounds scary.
Add the rising trio of Walter Musona, Wisdom Mutasa and Marshall Mudehwe, and the return to fitness of prolific left back Qadr Amini, then you have a team capable of mounting a serious title challenge.
Respected soccer commentator Charles “CNN” Mabika, whose forecast of the 2013 outcome was spot on, predicts debutants Chiredzi FC and returnees Chapungu FC will spring major surprises the same way How Mine and Triangle took the league by storm last year.
“A lot of people think Chiredzi FC are just there to make up the numbers but no team that is coached by Chunga is a pushover. Bambo has assembled quite a number of exciting, youthful and determined players so I don’t see them fighting relegation,” said Mabika, who also tips Chapungu for a top eight finish.
The departure of Ntini could have disturbed the momentum Gizha had built at Triangle, whose top eight finish last year shocked all and sundry, but the appointment of the shrewd Biggie Zuze should at least see the Sugar Boys fighting to see another day in the Premiership.
With two teams set to be relegated at the end of the season, this should be sweet music to the ears of the likes of Shabanie Mine, Hwange, Black Rhinos and returnees Bantu Rovers, who might find the going tough.
A massive exodus of senior players and the departure of the 2013 BancABC Sup8r Cup-winning coach Luke Masomere, has put the Zvishavane side into quagmire, leaving local coach John Phiri with a seemingly insurmountable task of steering the Chinda Boys’ troubled ship.
Week 1 fixtures
How Mine v Dynamos; Hwange v Buffaloes; Caps United v ZPC Kariba; Chapungu v Highlanders; Chicken Inn v Harare City; Chiredzi v FC Platinum; Bantu Rovers v Black Rhinos; Shabanie Mine v Triangle.
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