Who will win the premiership title in Zimbabwe?
By Robson Sharuko
The mighty roar that erupted at Rufaro on the 70th minute mark on Sunday was undiluted delirium and could probably have dwarfed the combined sound released by four Boeing 747-400 Superjumbo jets taking off at the same time.
As Rodrick Mutuma’s angled effort kissed the right upright and found a way home, to finally break a brave rearguard action mounted by Highlanders in which goalkeeper Lovemore Makwavarara was inspirational, 20 000 Dynamos souls rose in unison in salute.
In that turn-around moment, as DeMbare finally took a lead that had taken an eternity in coming, thanks to the combined efforts of an in-form rival ‘keeper, the woodwork and their forwards’ technical shortcomings, the home crowd poured out all the frustrations that had build up all day.
For more than an hour Bosso, in general, and Makwavarara, in particular, had stood tall with a courageous defensive display but when they finally gave in, after they switched off at the back to give Mutuma the space to flash his effort across goal towards its destiny with the post, their brave resistance crumbled.
It wasn’t a magical goal, and Makwavara had blocked better efforts earlier, but on such key moments seasons can turn, championships can be lost and won, and the carnival at Rufaro on Sunday was testimony to the DeMbare family’s appreciation of the huge significance of the moment.
The Glamour Boys eventually won 3-1 but there was no questioning that the big game turned on its head on that Mutuma Moment, and if the DeMbare players needed a clue of how their fans badly need them to win this championship, the celebratory madness that engulfed the stadium as the ball trickled in, said it all.
The previous day, hundreds of Dynamos fans had converged at Lafarge, even ignoring the lunch-time Manchester United/Liverpool game, to back a Gunners’ team that turned on the show in the second half to beat FC Platinum 2-1 and open the doors for the challengers to make their move.
Nothing was decided this weekend, in a riveting Castle Lager Premiership battle that has caught the eye and pulled the crowds back to the stadiums, and the minefield is too dangerous right now for any of the leading teams to venture without caution.
Nothing, too, is likely to be decided when the next round of league fixtures take place after the break for the Mbada Diamonds Cup quarter-finals this coming weekend. But if last weekend belonged to FC Platinum, with both Dynamos and Motor Action falling, this weekend belonged to Dynamos with the Mighty Bulls being held and the platinum miners crashing to defeat in Mabvuku.
Callisto Pasuwa will certainly be charmed by the way his players responded, after the setback suffered in Masvingo, and the character they showed to claw their way back from an early goal conceded against Bosso and, in the cauldron of that taxing atmosphere were the pressure was incredible, hold their nerve to win a big battle.
To win 3-1 against an opponent that played at a high level that certainly didn’t suggest they could lose to Zimbabwe Saints, as they did recently, and be held by Shooting Stars at home, as happened recently, after creating so many chances and being repeatedly thwarted by Makwavarara, was a good sign for Dynamos.
The problem is that the real business is only beginning.
FC Platinum might have dropped all points in Mabvuku, in a match that left a bitter taste in the mouth after referee Pedzisayi Chadya somehow decided to show ‘keeper Tafadzwa Dube a yellow card – rather than a straight red – when he pushed Lloyd Masukusa to the ground in an off-the-ball incident.
The sight of Gunners’ president Cuthbert Chitima, storming out of the VIP Enclosure at Lafarge complaining bitterly that the playing field wasn’t level and the match officials were trying to influence the outcome of the contest, was certainly a bad picture for the Premiership.
And Chadya certainly didn’t help matters either by his decision to keep dragging the match on, long after the four minutes of added time had elapsed. The Zvishavane miners will also feel hard done by Chadya’s decision to wave away their strong appeals for a first half penalty.
But while FC Platinum might have staggered on Saturday, it’s hard to ignore that their fate is still in their hands and they have an easier programme with games against Shabanie (home), Monomotapa (away), Dynamos (home) and Shooting Stars (away) in their last four league matches.
Shabanie were crushed the last time the two Zvishavane teams met, in a derby overshadowed by the death of FC Platinum coach Benjamin Moyo, Monomotapa have yet to win in their last eight league matches, DeMbare have not won out of Harare all season and there is a possibility the Wild Boys would have been relegated by the time they host FC Platinum in their last game.
But the beauty of this championship race is that Dynamos will be champions if they win all their remaining four league games and, if the Glamour Boys really want to be champoions, then they should have the pedigree to do it the hard way.
DeMbare have to do it the tough way with games against an in-form Hwange at the Colliery, Motor Action (home), FC Platinum (away) and Kiglon (home) and, in the first half of the season, they only picked four out of 12 points against these teams, beating FC Platinum, being held by Hwange and losing to Kiglon and the Mighty Bulls.
Moses Chunga, whose youthful Gunners played a big part in adding a new twist to this race when they beat FC Platinum, turned 46 yesterday. And, while he didn’t receive any birthday gifts from the Dynamos fans, who sang songs in his honour at Lafarge, Chunga was still in the mood, on is special day yesterday, to talk about the championship race.
“It’s still a very tight race and there is no room for any errors for the leading teams and every week there is a new twist and turn and I think that will be the same story until the end,” said Chunga.
“The pressure is intense and it is increasing all the time and it’s not going to be easy for any of the teams and I’m actually happy about that because I believe winning the league championship should not be an easy process.
“Teams need to work hard for their title and that’s what we are seeing and, for us Gunners, we can only wonder what we might have achieved if we had started the season the way we have played in the second half of the championship.”
So who will win this big prize?
After coming second in each of the last three seasons, where they usually collapsed in the final countdown, Dynamos showed on Sunday that they are ready for the test this time around and the performance of goalkeeper Washington Arubi and striker Cuthbert Malajila showed the value they bring into this team.
All that noise, about the dangers of playing in Masvingo without their star men who were on national duty, were certainly justified. But you can feel that FC Platinum still hold the aces in this race and, despite the setback in Mabvuku, it’s still their championship to lose.