Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
AFTER a tumultuous week in which the Christian Ntouba controversy cast a huge shadow on the game, the domestic Premiership will hold its breath this afternoon praying that events in Gweru today will not produce yet another farce.
Chapungu and Dynamos are scheduled, according to the football authorities, to play the remaining minutes of the match that was abandoned in farcical fashion in June when a goalpost collapsed under the weight of the home team’s ‘keeper.
The Glamour Boys were leading 4-0, just before the hour mark, when the incident happened and repeated attempts by Gweru City Council employees to repair the damaged goalpost failed, leaving the referee with no option but to call off the match.
Now, three months later, the two teams are set to meet at the same venue and play the remaining minutes with the PSL — on the advice of the organ that ruled on the match — saying the game should only feature the players who were in both teams’ line-ups back then.
Should a player who was on the field be replaced by one who was on the bench, the PSL say that will be considered a substitution and Dynamos, who were yet to make any changes at the time of the abandonment, can technically field three new players today should the match go ahead.
The problem, though, is that Chapungu had fielded all their three substitutes and, to make matters worse, they have lost two other players who were on their team sheet that day to other clubs while four are either injured or are not feeling well.
This means the Gweru airmen have 10 in-field players to choose from for the game, if those players include three who had been substituted that day and — technically — can’t be fielded today, it means Chapungu have only seven in-field players eligible for the game.
The seven in-field players, plus the goalkeeper, will be enough to make a team given that eight players are considered good enough by FIFA for the game to continue but the problem will come — if the match goes ahead — should there be injuries for the airmen.
The PSL have been insisting that the match should go ahead, despite repeated appeals from the airmen that this has turned into a farce and the judgment cannot be complied with without dragging the integrity of the league into disrepute.
Of course, Chapungu looked dead and buried that afternoon and gifting them with a replay sets a bad precedent where home teams can now conspire to have goalposts that can collapse, whenever they feel they are being overrun by the opposition, hoping for another day to fight this battle.
But, it’s also true that half-an-hour in football is a lot of time and those who are also in the race for the league championship like Chicken Inn, who dropped all three points at Ascot, Ngezi Platinum and FC Platinum — can argue it’s enough for the hosts to turn the four-goal deficit should they apply themselves fully to the assignment.
They can probably point to that sensational collapse by the Glamour Boys last year, when they conceded three goals in the last five minutes of their Harare Derby against CAPS United in that 3-3 draw at the National Sports Stadium, as an example that it’s never over until the fat lady sings.
After the Ntouba debacle, in which attempts to have his red card rescinded dominated the game last week, there are many who will be praying that the game at Ascot today goes without incident. But, in the event things don’t go according to plan, the blame should be heaped on the PSL management.
For, until now, it remains a mystery why the PSL management didn’t order that Dynamos should not return to Harare after the abandonment of that game in June but stay in Gweru ready to play the match — from the 56th minute — the following day.
Maybe, the PSL didn’t want to foot the costs of such a move but isn’t that the reason why they get an allocation for administration fees from the sponsors of the league, money which should be used to offset such emergencies for the sake of protecting the integrity of the league and their sponsors?
The more the PSL dragged on, without a resolution to this case, the more they left themselves exposed to the possibility of things going badly wrong — as is now being feared ahead of today’s game.
If the match had been played the following day, the issue related to the players who have moved and injuries would have been taken care of.
After all, that’s what others do.
On February 28, this year, a South African Premiership game between Mamelodi Sundowns and Chippa United was called off in the 41st minute because of a power failure in Pretoria.
The match was goalless at that time.
The South African Premiership ordered Chippa United not to travel back to their base but to remain in Pretoria and instructed that the two teams replay the game the following day, starting from the 41st minute, and it ended goalless.
Their rules are very clear that such matches should be played just 48 hours after the abandonment.
In December 2004, the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad was abandoned at the Santiago Bernabeu, with 70 000 fans being evacuated from the stadium, after a militant called a newspaper to report a bomb had been planted inside the stadium.
The match was tied 1-1 and there were two minutes and 40 seconds of regulation time and four minutes of additional time left to be played.
The Spanish football authorities then ruled that the match should be played on January 6, three weeks later, and the two clubs were even allowed to change their players even though it would only be played for the remaining minutes, starting at 1-1.
Real Madrid, who had changed coaches during the three weeks, scored in those remaining minutes through Zinedine Zidane’s penalty to win the match 2-1.
A number of players, who had featured in that match on both sides, found themselves either being relegated to the bench or not featuring at all.
Michael Owen, who had been used as a substitute in the abandoned game, was pushed to the bench for the replay and could have been eligible to come back as a substitute in the remaining minutes played in the second match.
Fans were also allowed to use the tickets they had bought for the original encounter and not this exercise where the supporters are being asked to play $2 to watch 30 minutes of possible action tomorrow.