Harare giants CAPS United won their first premiership title in 11 years after beating Chapungu 1-0 at Ascot Stadium in Gweru despite a spirited attempt by FC Platinum who beat Tsholotsho 3-0 at Luveve Stadium in Bulawayo.
A solitary strike by Simba Nhivi in the second minute was enough to see the Green Machine clinch a long awaited championship triumph in a nervy afternoon that could have easily seen FC Platinum crowned champions if CAPS United had slipped in Gweru.
It has been a long wait for CAPS United since 2005 when they won the last of back-to-back titles under Charles Mhlauri.
By Langton Nyakwenda in Gweru
He chose a blue suit, the colour of Caps United’s archrivals Dynamos, as he stood on the threshold of history. In drizzly weather conditions at Ascot in the Midlands capital of Gweru, Lloyd Chitembwe made history as he became the first person to win the league title with Makepekepe both as a player and a coach.
Simba Sithole struck after only two minutes, when some fans were still trickling into the stadium and for 90 or so minutes, Caps United hung on.
It was a nervy afternoon. When news filtered through that FC Platinum had taken a 3-0 lead against Tsholotsho FC in Bulawayo, at a time when Chapungu were piling on the pressure, the game became a hazard for those Caps United fans of a nervous disposition.
When Chapungu striker Patrick Kumbula headed just over in 79th minute, Caps United were on the edge but still the centre back pairing of skipper of the day Stephen Makatuka and Dennis Dauda did not capitulate.
The fourth official Ruzive Ruzive indicated two minutes of time added on and anticipation levels among the Makepekepe family soared.
They were all waiting for Brighton Chimene’s final whistle.When it came, it sparked wild scenes of celebrations as thousands of Caps United supporters scaled the perimeter fence onto the pitch as Makepekepe clinched their first league title in 11 years – with 63 points and two clear of their closest rivals FC Platinum.
The last time they won it was in 2005 and Chitembwe was still a reputable defensive linkman, anchoring a star studded midfield molded by Charles Mhlauri.
He had won it the previous year as a player and back in 1996 under Steve “The Dude” Kwashi. Yesterday, Chitembwe rewrote Caps United’s history book.“Let me enjoy my time in the sun, we worked for this,” Chitembwe said as some fans chanted his name.
“It has been a long journey, glory be to God. Special mention goes to the players, their perseverance was awesome,” he said.It was a moment to savour as the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League trophy was handed over to Caps United amid some champagne popping and fireworks.
Minster of Sport and Recreation Makhosini Hlongwane graced the occasion.Dynamos president Kenny Mubaiwa also was in attendance and he gave his counterpart Farai Jere a hearty hug as the latter reveled in his glory.
“This is Caps United’s fifth title but this one is special to me because this is my first as a Caps United president.“I was the team manager when we won it back in 2005 but this one is so dear to me,” said Jere.
The Caps United boss, who poured close to half-a-million dollars in this campaign, once again reiterated that his team will “definitely” participate in the 2017 CAF Champions League.
“Obviously (we will participate), what would be the purpose of fighting this hard if we didn’t want to take part in Africa?
“I am confident of my boys, they will leave a mark in Africa,” he said.
It was befitting that the special goal of the day came from a Caps United product, Sithole, the scorer of Makepekepe’s solitary goal last week when the Green Machine beat Ngezi Platinum Stars in the penultimate round.
“I am forever grateful to Caps United because this is the team that discovered me, this is the team that gave me fame and this is the team at my heart.
“Yes I won the title before with Dynamos but this one is special if you know what I mean,” said Sithole.
Caps United were quick off the blocks and got the early goal they desired in the second minute when Sithole tapped home after the Chapungu defence had failed to deal with a Ronald Pfumbidzai free kick.
Pfumbidzai was a thorn in the flesh on the left flank and so was Tafadzwa “Fire” Rusike on the other as the hosts struggled to contain Makepekepe.
Veteran striker Leonard Tsipa failed to connect with his head twice in the first half and had a goal ruled out for offside after 52 minutes when he turned in a powerful free kick by goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda.
The Premier League’s Golden Boot winner was hauled off for Dominic Chungwa in the 75th minute. Chungwa could have killed the game as a contest six minutes later but his effort from close range was blocked by Chapungu keeper Talbert Shumba.
United had survived a massive scare when Kumbula rose higher but headed just over from close range. Makepekepe hung on with another substitute Kudzanai Nyamupfukudza mopping the dirt in the middle park.
Caps United are in dreamland. They got $100 000 for their sweat, and they deserve it.
Chapungu: T. Shumba, C. Mativenga, W. Ngonya, B. Zabula, C. Kwaramba, B. Mbavarira, G. Phiri, A. Peperere (S. Maengeni 56), A. Tavarwisa, M. Mavuto (X. Ncube 55), P. Marufu (P. Kumbula 61)
Caps United: E. Sibanda, H. Zvirekwi, R. Pfumbidzai, S. Makatuka, D. Dauda, D. Chafa, J. Ngodzo, P. Bamusi, T. Rusike (K. Nyamupfukudza 69), L. Tsipa (D. Chungwa 75), S. Nhivi