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Veterans decide Harare derby

By Robson Sharuko

In the end, it needed two veterans with a combined age of 66 years, who have been in the football trenches for a combined 28 years, to score the goals that produced a dramatic ending to the Harare Derby as honours were shared in the Rufaro sunshine on Sunday.

Veterans Leonard Tsipa and Takesure Chinyama decided the outcome of the Harare derby between Dynamos and Caps United
Veterans Leonard Tsipa and Takesure Chinyama decided the outcome of the Harare derby between Dynamos and Caps United

One of them was kept on the bench for an hour, after his coach finally lost patience with his lack of goals in recent weeks, while the other played for the full one-and-a-half hour contest of a battle that was certainly not a classic, but in no ways a dull affair.

The one with fresh legs, Takesure Chinyama, who turned 33 on September 30 this year, struck first, finding the island of space in the tiring CAPS United central defensive wall and stroking the ball home from close range after superb work down the flank by Ronald Chitiyo.

The one with tired legs didn’t need them for shooting, when the chance presented itself for him to make a difference in the game, with Leonard Tsipa — who turned 33 on January 25 this year — using his head to snatch a point that his team thoroughly deserved.

Tsipa has been around since the turn of the millennium; emerging on the scene as an explosive teenage forward who promised a lot with his strength and eye for goal, as CAPS United searched for a formula that had made them champions, for the first time since Independence, in 1996.

Given that it was a sensational triumph spearheaded by an awesome attack, which crushed just about everything in its path, the emergence of this teenage forward, who bullied opponents, cheered the spirits of the CAPS United fans, who felt that they had a man who could develop into a star to lead them back to the Promised Land.

Of course, they waited longer than they had initially hoped for, with the championship only being delivered in 2004, when Charles Mhlauri and his team of superstars came within just one game of turning themselves into the Invincibles — after losing only once all season — as they won the league title in style.

Tsipa, then a 22-year-old, was one of the architects of that success story, scoring a number of goals, including a last-gasp equaliser at Barbourfields in a 3-3 draw against Highlanders that torched crowd trouble, leading to the abandonment of the game.

He was also on target in the reverse fixture, a seven-goal thriller at the National Sports Stadium, the only league game the Green Machine lost all season that year.

Tsipa also scored in the Harare Derby that year, finding the target in CAPS United’s 2-1 win in the first edition of that showdown in 2004, while Raymond Undi scored the solitary goal as the Green Machine won the reverse encounter 1-0.

Eleven years later, Tsipa is still scoring in the capital’s flagship football battle, and his goal on Sunday ensured that — for the first time in five years — CAPS United avoided defeat, to their bitter rivals, in the two matches of the Harare Derby after both games ended in a draw.

Interestingly, Tsipa would not have been playing for CAPS United this year had he not convinced former coach, Mark Harrison, that he was worth the gamble to bring him into the fold, after turning on a blinder in a pre-season game at Barbourfields against Bosso.

“He earned his contract during that game,” Harrison told our sister newspaper, The Sunday Mail.

“My first reaction when I first saw him was, ‘honestly would I really need a 33-year-old in my squad’. But Leonard has shown a fantastic side of him that I never imagined existed; he is really showing the youngsters how it’s done.

“He has been showing them how a real professional footballer should conduct himself at training.

“He has come in and given us another dimension; he is still a massive player and that is why we have decided to give him a contract whose details can only be availed by the player himself.”

And Hardlife Zvirekwi, who was the captain back then, said having an old gun like Tsipa in the team was very important for the Green Machine.

“It’s motivating for the youngsters to play alongside someone they idolised when they were growing up. Tsipa has seen it all and his presence will go a long way in stabilising the squad,” said Zvirekwi.

And Undi, who is now based in the United Kingdom, fully supported Tsipa — who played for Dynamos, Gunners and Javor in Serbia, to retrace his footsteps and return to the Green Machine.

“He has done it before. To me, he is one of the best strikers that I ever played with in my career. As long as he is fit and up, he will be every defender’s nightmare,” said Undi.

“I think he did the best thing going back to where it all started, the club that gave him a name. I do believe he can make a huge difference.”

And, after Tsipa’s contribution to the latest Harare Derby, Undi was probably right.

But, for a few minutes on Sunday, Dynamos dared to dream — dreaming of victory, dreaming of maximum points that would bring them within four points of leaders Chicken Inn, with nine points to play for, and dreaming of another fairy-tale ending that will see them winning a fifth straight league title.

Chinyama, a veteran who emerged on the scene in the colours of Hwange in 2003, before moving to Monomotapa, Groclin Grodzisk in Poland, turning himself into a genuine star at Legia Warsaw in that country, and returning to join Dynamos before moving to South Africa and then bouncing back at DeMbare, appeared to have thrust them on the path for victory.

And on Sunday he appeared to have given Dynamos a priceless goal when, like a wily veteran, he positioned himself to perfection, and was virtually unmarked as he stroked the ball home after beautiful work down the flank by Chitiyo.

It wasn’t a day for the veterans only, a number of young players made an impact on Sunday, but — when it came to crunch time — it was the old boys who made the big difference. The Herald