United inch closer to Zimbabwe league title

By Robson Sharuko

HARARE-A CLUB battling to exorcise half-a-century of demons, which have stalked teams from outside Harare and Bulawayo and two giants fighting for their first league title in a decade remain in the race for the Zimbabwe’s Premier League title with only two games left to complete the marathon.

FC Platinum, who forced their way back into contention after recording their first victory over Chapungu at Ascot Stadium in Gweru last weekend, are just two points off the pace that is being set by leaders CAPS United, who are favourites to land their first league title in 11 years.

Bulawayo giants Highlanders, chasing their first league championship in a decade, are four points adrift of the leaders after a surprise 1-2 defeat, in their Barbourfields fortress, at the hands of relegation-haunted Tsholotsho.

With six points still at stake, Highlanders – who play FC Platinum in Week 29 away in Zvishavane – will be eliminated from the race should CAPS United win their penultimate match against Ngezi Platinum Stars in their National Sports Stadium stronghold where they are unbeaten in a league match in more than a year.

United, who have 57 points from 28 matches, will be crowned champions should they win against Ngezi Platinum Stars and FC Platinum and Highlanders draw in Zvishavane.

But, in the event that FC Platinum beat Highlanders, they will take the title race to the final day of the season.

Highlanders’ Dutch coach Elroy Akbay believes his side have a mountain to climb and feels United, whose never-say-die spirit saw them score three times in the final seven minutes to grab an incredible 3-3 draw against their biggest Harare rivals Dynamos in their previous match, are on course to be champions.

“About (winning) the title, I don’t think (we can do) so because we are now four points behind CAPS United with just two games remaining,” Akbay told The Herald newspaper.

“That would mean CAPS United will have to drop points in their last two matches but with the way they have been playing of late I don’t see that happening. CAPS United have the advantage.

“But we still have to concentrate till the end. If you cannot be champions, then it has to be number two. Already, we are assured of finishing in the top three but we would want the best possible place.”

Even if he finishes third, Akbay would have surpassed expectations with Highlanders chief executive Ndumiso Gumede saying the Dutchman’s mandate, in his first season in charge of the club, was to finish in the top four.

He has already cheered the spirits of the Bosso fans by ending the club’s 10-year wait for a league victory over their biggest rivals Dynamos, whom Highlanders swept aside in back-to-back victories, with the win at Barbourfields torching wild celebrations in the City of Kings.

CAPS United just need to hold their nerve and end their lengthy wait for the title with coach Lloyd Chitembwe set to cement his legendary status at the club having won three league titles as a player with the Green Machine.

The Harare giants’ charge for the championship has been powered, in a big way, by the goals of veteran forward Leonard Tsipa, who turns 35 in January next year. He is now leading the race to win both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball.

FC Platinum, chasing their first league title, have history against them as no club from outside Harare and Bulawayo has ever been crowned champions since 1966 when St Paul’s Musami, a missionary team under the leadership of Father Davies, took the crown to Mashonaland East.

On the 50th anniversary of that landmark triumph, FC Platinum are in the race although they will need CAPS United to falter while they also beat Highlanders who have perfected the art of doing very well in Zvishavane.

Border Strikers, from the border town of Beitbridge, have already been relegated but there is confusion over who will join them after ZIFA councillors passed a resolution last weekend to relegate four clubs from the Premier League instead of the two as agreed at the beginning of the season.

The affected clubs have vowed to fight to the bitter end and it could be an interesting time in Zimbabwe football.