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Ntouba toast of Harare Derby

By Robson Sharuko

For a few months now, the Glamour Boys family have been celebrating the emergence of a superhero and in the game that probably matters the most to them, their Indomitable Lion roared loudest to destroy the Green Machine and cast his spell over the Harare Derby.

Christian Epoupa Ntouba
Christian Epoupa Ntouba

It was a roar that was heard as far afield as Bulawayo, sending shivers into the kraal of the Gamecocks, while also triggering tremors underground in Zvishavane and Mhondoro where the platinum miners are in a twin drive to try and make history by mining gold in football this season.

It was a roar that blinded big goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda, not once, but twice, at the National Sports Stadium yesterday, after having destroyed the CAPS United’s defensive wall to create the avenues in which these Glamour Boys picked a full set of points, with a 2-0 victory, for their sixth win on the trot.

And it was a roar that only a prized Indomitable Lion can produce.

Just a few days after his romantic attachment with these Glamour Boys, which is turning into a love affair-made-in-heaven, probably only fitting for someone named Christian, had wrongly been reported to have been ended by a pursuit from a South African club that never was, it was inevitable that this Indomitable Lion would provide the script for this Harare Derby.

Special occasions are tailor-made for special players, the ones who raise their hand to be counted when everyone else is being consumed by the sheer fear of the occasion, the ones who don’t shy away from responsibility when so much is expected from them and the ones who deliver when it matters most.

Big occasions cry out for big players and on the 40th anniversary of a Harare Derby that has produced its fair share of superstars in its remarkable journey, including Moses Chunga who was watching from the stands yesterday, Christian Epoupa Ntouba found a way to deliver for his team.

That he was playing in his first Harare Derby, in an electric atmosphere in which the big and lively crowd that turned up for the show helped to colour the occasion, put into context the special nature of his priceless contribution.

The Cameroonian striker was the star of the show yesterday, whichever way one looks at it, on an afternoon when — for once this season — Ocean Mushure, who has been the mainstay of this DeMbare quest for honours, had to play second fiddle.

Charles Mabika, the legendary football commentator and analyst, suggested at the end that this edition of the Harare Derby failed to match the fireworks of the six-goal thriller of the last encounter between the two giants and to a larger extent, he was right.

It’s never easy to match a show in which half-a-dozen goals are scored, including three in the final five minutes, and — at the end of it all — there is no winner with the spoils being shared as was the case that afternoon in October last year.

But, while yesterday’s battle might have been short on goals, it wasn’t short on quality and that both teams chose to try, as much as possible, to pass the ball around and find ways to let their passing free themselves from tight situations, will remain a credit to them.

The Dynamos first goal came after a completion of more than seven passes, something that doesn’t usually happen in the domestic Premiership, and for that one has to give these guys credit.

At times, it’s difficult to appreciate the value of good football when there are no goals to accompany it, the final killer touch, the statistic which — at the end of the day — is what counts and makes the difference between bragging rights, as is the case when it comes to a Derby, and days and weeks of being at the receiving end of the mocking, and at times abuse, which follows a loss.

That is why it’s unfortunate very few people will remember that Devon Chafa, in a first half show that dripped purity, played as well as anyone has ever done in this Derby, controlling the midfield with the ruthlessness of a possessed warrior and making a mockery of the opposition.

Instead, all the plaudits will go to Ntouba, and rightly so, for making the difference with his killer instincts which persuaded Dynamos to go to Cameroon and drag this Indomitable Lion to be the main attraction to their circus with the big forward sucking life out of a battling Green Machine with two decisive killer blows.

The first one was a classic centre forward goal — nothing spectacular in its execution, but you need to appreciate what genuine strikers are there for to see the true value of the way he knocked it in.

When Hardlife Zvirekwi made a mockery of what defending is all about and allowed his man, the diminutive Cleopas Kapupurika to steal a march on him and find space down the left channel when non appeared to exist, to pull the ball back into the danger area, it left CAPS United exposed and on the ropes.

Denver Mukamba reacted quickest, but his effort, on a day when his subdued show probably didn’t deserve anything, was blocked and the ball fell invitingly to Ntouba — always in the box, right place and right time — and he rolled it home, unfazed at all by the responsibility he was carrying.

The second goal was a product of luck after referee Nkosana Nduna, who had a very poor game, somehow saw a foul when Moses Muchenje’s tackle was as fine as they come and from the resultant dead ball, Mushure swung a beauty and when Ntouba rose unchallenged for the connection, the result of that contact was inevitable.

Game over!

CAPS United will search their soul, long and hard, after this defeat — why didn’t they throw Nigerian forward Abasirim Chidiebere into the starting XI when his introduction after the break gave them the cutting edge their attack had badly lacked in the first half?

What if Dominic Chungwa was in the team and not in the stands serving a suspension?

Maybe, on another day and another referee, when John Zhuwawu went down early in the second half, it could have been a penalty and, given they were only a goal down, it could have changed everything.

But the Glamour Boys can also tell you they deserved a spot-kick at the very end when their neat passes, which bordered on arrogance, opened the CAPS United defence only for their man to go down under a challenge that looked heavy on the eye.

The show, though, belonged to an Indomitable Lion and what a forward to have in your team and, watching him at work, helped illuminate an afternoon where the chaos at the gates once again showed the ugly side of our football. The Herald