Paul Mundandi in BULAWAYO
CAPS United coach Lloyd Chitembwe is set to provoke a wave of anger in the Dynamos camp after tipping FC Platinum to end years of being bridesmaids and make history this season as the first club from outside Harare and Bulawayo to be crowned champions in more than half-a-century.
The Glamour Boys, the most successful football club in the country, took over pole position in the championship race after safely negotiating the replay of their abandoned match against Chapungu at Ascot on Thursday afternoon.
The 4-0 victory, after both sides didn’t alter the scoreline when the match was called off in June after a goalpost collapsed, saw the Harare giants take over the leadership in the race for the biggest prize in domestic football for the first time this year.
After having suffered false starts in matches against Highlanders and CAPS United, where they collected just a point out of a possible six and squandered two chances of taking over pole position in the race, Dynamos finally came good at Ascot on Thursday by defending their four-goal lead in the 34 minutes that were played.
Dynamos are leading the table with 52 points from 25 matches, Chicken Inn and FC Platinum are on 51 points from the same number of games with Ngezi Platinum on fourth position.
Ascot was also the venue where CAPS United sealed their league championship last year, thanks to a 1-0 victory over Chapungu courtesy of an early goal by Simba Sithole, and although the return of the Chibuku Super Cup this weekend provides a break in a riveting championship race, the quest for the ultimate prize will be part of the conversations at various stadiums across the country.
And Chitembwe, who is the reigning Coach of the Year, only the second CAPS United in a dozen years to beat DeMbare twice in a league match and the first gaffer to guide the Green Machine to the group stages of the CAF Champions League, believes his hometown boy Norman Mapeza will triumph in the championship race this year.
“I tip FC Platinum to win the league crown for the first time this season and I have faith that Norman will walk on the podium this year for the second time in his career as coach,’’ said Chitembwe after a stopover here on his way back to the capital following CAPS United’s league win over Hwange at the Colliery.
“Norman is hungry for success and he is one coach who works hard, just like Tonderai (Ndiraya), but he has the edge over Dynamos and Ngezi Platinum as I feel experience will play a bigger part in the remaining games.
“When I won the championship I had to rely on the experience of Leonard (Tsipa).He scored vital goals for us and his presence in the team played a huge role.
“Mapeza has Chinyama (Takesure), Sadiki (Ali), Winston (Mhango), Gift (Bello) and Mkhokheli (Dube). I feel these are the players that can help win him the league although teamwork is very vital, from the fans, executive and players.’’
Chitembwe and Mapeza grew up in the same neighbourhood in Chitungwiza before playing for Darryn T, moved to Europe together and later worked together at CAPS United.
They also hail from the same rural area in the Eastern Highlands.
Dynamos coach Lloyd Mutasa is also from Chitungwiza but hails from Zengeza while Chitembwe and Mapeza are from Seke.
Mutasa has been credited with assembling a team from scratch at the beginning of the year, bringing in a number of new faces, and turning them into a very competitive side that now has their fate, in the championship race, firmly in their hands.
DeMbare now need to win all their remaining games and they will be champions, irrespective of what happens elsewhere, but – in a tough race – that is easier said than done.
The Glamour Boys have some tough hurdles in their path, including an away trip to Kariba for a battle against the coach who helped transform them into serial championship winners -Sunday Chidzambwa, a rumble in the jungle against the man who was in charge of them last season, Ndiraya, in Mhondoro and a duel against Chicken Inn.
And Chitembwe believes the gods of football will eventually smile on FC Platinum this season for the investment the Zvishavane side have put into their side in the past six years hoping to finally enjoy the beauty of life as champions.
FC Platinum came very close to winning the title in their first season in the Premiership, where a draw in their penultimate match against Dynamos at Mandava would have been enough to secure them the championship, but a 0-1 defeat – with defender Daniel Veremu scoring an own goal – swung the pendulum towards the Glamour Boys.
The Zvishavane miners also ran both Chicken Inn and CAPS United close in the last two seasons, and at times appeared primed to be champions but, somehow, at the crucial stage, results went against them and their challenge collapsed.
Club president George Mawere has targeted winning the championship this year, hoping to be the first side from outside Harare and Bulawayo to be crowned champions since 1966.