By Mukudzei Chingwere
Trailblazing FC Platinum secured a second successive Castle Lager Premier Soccer League crown at Maglas with two games to spare as gaffer Norman Mapeza added another feather to his coaching profile.
Newboy Devon Chafa who has previously won the league title with Dynamos and CAPS United rose from the bench yesterday to grab the goal that guaranteed FC Platinum of the championship and ended any faint hopes their nearest rivals Ngezi Platinum Stars might have harboured of staging a Houdini Act.
Mapeza has now won three championships in his growing coaching career with the 46-year-old having first earned his stripes a decade ago after guiding Monomotapa to the 2008 crown.
The former Zimbabwe captain and coach then wrote his own piece of history last year when he became the first coach in more than five decades to guide a team from outside Harare and Bulawayo to the ultimate prize in domestic football.
FC Platinum showed that their victory last year was no fluke as they have gone better this season and sealed their second championship with a luxury of six points from two games to spare.
They needed just a draw against their Zvishavane rivals but Mapeza’s men are currently in no mood to leave anything to chance and ensured they are crowned the kings of the domestic game with a victory, their 23rd in 32 matches.
The miners kept their cool to seal a riveting championship race that was long reduced to a two-horse race between fellow miners Ngezi Platinum and them.
Ngezi, under pressure to play catch up with FC Platinum, fired their coach Tonderai Ndiraya with five matches remaining but the bid to take the chase to the wire proved difficult for the Mhondoro outfit.
The icing was put on the cake when they had to be crowned league conquerors at the home of the fierce rivals Shabanie Mine, who have already been demoted from the elite division.
Shabanie had put in a brave fight and that they missed several days of training never showed as they were intent on delaying their rivals from winning the title.
Their fans who dominated this lively contest honoured the relegated miners with songs that are usually characterised by a Shona funeral setting as if to bury this derby.
Shabanie’s resolve was ended when serial champion Chafa rose from the bench to score the all-important goal that secured the second title for his paymasters and an astonishing sixth for the combative midfielder.
Chafa was part of trendsetting coach Callisto Pasuwa’s all-conquering squad that won the title four years on the bounce from 2011-2014.
The former Eagles man also won the championship with CAPS United in 2016 before sealing the sixth yesterday.
Unlike last year at Ascot when FC Platinum won their maiden title which had to be decided on the final day, this time scenes at Maglas were devoid of the pomp and glamour that is associated with being champions as if they celebrated this success a long time ago.
Although he went on a lap of honour and saluted the FC Platinum fans at Maglas, Mapeza was calm at the final whistle and trying hard not to show any emotions.
“Yah, we are done,” he heaved a huge and profound sigh of relief at the start of his post-match press conference.
“If you look at the progression of the team it has been like this since 2014, we were improving each season, last year we won on the last day, this time we have done it with two games to go.
“I told the players let us push to get to the 80-point mark, now we are on 74 and we have won but we still want to win our two remaining games,” Mapeza said.
“It was not easy we came here needing two results a win or a draw but we have done it in style, congratulations to the boys.
“It was not easy since the start of the season congratulations to the boys, I want to salute the boys, the fans, the executive, the technical team and my family they have been very supportive in this journey.
“But at the end of the day all glory to God if it was not for God all this could not have been possible,” said Mapeza.
Both sides struggled to settle into the duel but as expected it was FC Platinum that threatened more. Former Hwange forward Gift Mbweti struck after 13 minutes but was denied by a well-positioned Biggie Temera in goal for Shabanie. Moments later wing-back Raphael Muduviwa tried in quick succession to break the deadlock first with a curling free-kick that was pushed over by the hosts goalkeeper before he had a shot blocked by the defence.
Midway through the half Muduviwa roved the wing again fighting in a cross towards Mkokheli Dube but the striker’s header was denied by some excellent piece of goalkeeping from Temera. After the breather Shabanie Mine were more enthusiastic buoyed by their twelfth man singing to rally them to preserve the integrity of the venue.
Just after the hour mark Maxwell Murimi fired from range but his effort was inches wide.
On the other hand, Farai Madhanhanga thought he had found a breakthrough past the impressive Temera but Peter Muzondo put his body on the line to heroically deny the midfield workhorse.
But 14 minutes before full-time Chafa ensured the title returned to Mandava when he struck a powerful shot beyond the hitherto impenetrable Temera.
Shabanie Mine coach Alexio Sigion was disappointed to lose but was full of praise for his brave charges.
“This is a derby and we really wanted to win the game. We gave everything, unfortunately it was not our day.
“Congratulations to FC Platinum, they deserve to be champions. They have been doing well all season.
“This being a derby we did not want them to win the championship here but unfortunately it did happen in the remaining games we will try to get good results to leave the Premier League with some dignity, but to be honest I am impressed by the effort of these boys,” said Sigion. The Herald