Eddie Chikamhi-Senior Sports Reporter
THE history of Zimbabwean football has taught us that there is always so much to look out for whenever giants Dynamos and Highlanders meet in a game of competitive football.
The players and coaches will tell you it’s not the usual week when preparing for this game, which is usually marked on the calendar as a must-win for both sides.
The battle for the bragging rights has been so intense. This has always been the case since time immemorial and it has fuelled the rivalry to grow from strength to strength. Stars are born, there are heroes and villains; and enduring memories are usually made during the duels.
However, it has been difficult for the giants in the last few years to maintain the fireworks because of the deteriorating quality of the duels and of the personnel involved over the last few years.
But fans across the divide still look forward to the spark, hence the usual hype surrounding almost every installment of this “Battle of Zimbabwe”.
The build-up of the duel set for Barbourfields tomorrow has been no exception. The clash comes as DeMbare and Bosso have experienced mixed fortunes in their quest to stop a combined 22 years of title drought for the giants.
Dynamos last lifted the coveted title eight years ago under the tutelage of Callisto Pasuwa, who had won four consecutive championships.
But the situation has been worse for Bosso. The Bulawayo giants are now in their 16th year on the trot and every year they are not getting any better. They last conquered domestic football in 2006 under Methembe Ndlovu.
They started the current campaign badly and find themselves in 11th place, while DeMbare are sitting on top of the pile following a steady run of results.
But players always come to the party and make a big difference. So, who will it be for Highlanders tomorrow? And for Dynamos?
The court of public opinion has long held that the quality of players at both teams has dropped drastically. But for DeMbare, the Glamour Boys faithful have always looked up to the explosive young winger Bill Antonio.
The 19-year-old has demonstrated he can turn the game on its head in a blink of an eye. He has proved that with a dazzling solo effort against Black Rhinos last month when he scored what probably could be the goal of the season.
In fact, Antonio has scored three goals for DeMbare in his debut season and has several assists, and accompanying Man of the Match awards.
The rookie winger also won his first PSL Castle Lager Player of the Month award yesterday, with his coach Tonderai Ndiraya being voted the best coach for the month of April.
DeMbare dominated both awards following a brilliant run of results which has now seen them knitting together a proud run of nine games unbeaten.
Antonio’s forward partner Emmanuel Paga is also another player to watch out for. Paga is currently DeMbare’s top goal scorer with five strikes to his name. The Ghanaian is a bundle of energy upfront and always finds himself in the right places.
Then King Nadolo appears to be getting his form and could be a handful for his former paymasters, Bosso. The lanky forward has not played a big part in DeMbare’s campaign but when he was given the opportunity in the last two games he scored in both and produced a Man of the Match performance against lowly Bulawayo City, when most of his teammates struggled to assert themselves.
Godknows Murwira, Shadreck Nyahwa and Frank Makarati, in defence, are the other key men expected to give the Battle of Zimbabwe weight.
And for Bosso, they could count themselves unfortunate as Adrian Silla, the hero of the last game against Bulawayo Chiefs, is out of the Battle of Zimbabwe contest because of suspension.
Silla scored a late double to rescue a point for Bosso in the 2-2 draw against Chiefs but he picked his third yellow card in the match and will not be able to feature tomorrow.
The midfielder, who now has three league goals to his name, was one of the top performers when Bosso beat DeMbare 1-0 in the Presidential Independence Cup final at Barbourfields just last month.
But the most consistent man for Bosso has been Nqobizitha Masuku. The veteran midfielder returned from injury just in time for the crucial battle against DeMbare.
Masuku has pulled the Bosso midfield quite remarkably and has been contributing goals, as well, mostly from set-pieces.
His leadership roles on the pitch will give Bosso the grit they need against old foes DeMbare, especially when they are missing players such as Silla, Joel Ngodzo and most probably Rahman Kutsanzira, who just returned from injury.
But they have midfielder Divine Mhindirira, who also loves running rings against DeMbare. The 21-year-old has been an integral part of the Bosso campaign and could be in fine mood after signing a contract extension this week which will see him up to June 2024 at the Bulawayo giants.
Veterans of the game, Ariel Sibanda and Peter Muduhwa, always make their presence felt in such situations that require big game mentality. Their presence could be key in deciding the Battle of Zimbabwe tomorrow.
In fact, Bosso have not lost a league game to their old foes in open play since 2015. But they come into this game on the back of a depressing run of results. They have not won a league game in the last five outings and have only three wins in 14 matches, compared to Dynamos’ nine wins.
They sit in 11th place on the log standings, two points above the relegation cut-off mark, and their coach Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu is facing a serious backlash from sections of the media and fans.
There has also been talk that his job could be in danger if things go against them tomorrow. But Mpofu is not moved. He said their focus was on the big game.
“Everything is okay in training and so far so good. It’s a must-win for us, a big game for the community and I think we are ready for Dynamos and we all know what needs to be done to get a win,” he told journalists during the weekly press conference.
He said his boys don’t need much motivation since they know the importance of the game.
“It’s a self-motivating game when you play against Dynamos, no one will push anyone, everyone knows how important it is for us to beat Dynamos.
“It’s a must-win and there are no two ways about it and the most important thing is to make sure that we prepare very well, it’s not an easy team, I must say.
“They are on top because they’re playing very well and I want to encourage our fans to come in their numbers to give us the cheer that we want.
“We don’t really dwell much on history because anything can happen in football but I think we are motivated to play them,” he said Mpofu.
DeMbare coach has been struggling under the weight of the pressure that comes with the big game. Ndiraya this week dodged the weekly press conference, following his team’s shambolic performance in their last game against Bulawayo City, which ended 1-1.
Still DeMbare are on a nine-match unbeaten run and are on top of the table with 30 points while Bosso have 16 points.
Earlier in the week, Ndiraya said it was important to work on his players’ mentality ahead of the trip to Bulawayo.
“The mentality is what we have to work on but believe you me, we may not need to really motivate these guys against Highlanders. They know how big this game is going to be.
“It was really a struggle to motivate them in the last two matches (against the league’s minnows) and I think I have said it in my pre-match interviews.
“But the Highlanders match is a big match, one which they always look forward to every week. We may not really be involved much in terms of motivating the players.
“But look, we just have to be strong and go and get a result in Bulawayo,” said Ndiraya.
Castle Lager Premiership Fixtures
Ngezi Platinum v Tenax (Baobab, 1pm), Herentals v Bulawayo Chiefs (NSS), Bulawayo City v ZPC Kariba (Barbourfields), Whawha v Harare City (Ascot).
CAPS Utd v Chicken Inn (NSS), Highlanders v Dynamos (Barbourfields), Manica Diamonds v Black Rhinos (Sakubva), Triangle v Cranborne Bullets (Gibbo).