THE decision by the country’s richest football tournament sponsors, Mbada Diamonds to reduce the number of teams to play in this year’s edition of the Mbada Diamonds Cup will boost competition in the domestic league whose curtains are six matches away from coming down.
By Brian Nkiwane
Mbada Diamonds unveiled a top-four, end-of-season tournament worth US$250 000 with all the clubs that finish in the top four in this current season set to participate in the tournament.
Winners of the competition will take home US$50 000, runners-up US$30 000 while the two losing semi-finalists will go home with US$15 000 each. The other 12 clubs will be rewarded US$10 000 each without kicking the ball.
As the PSL log table stands, eight teams are gunning to sneak into the top four considering the number of points that separate them with six matches still to be played.
Defending champions Dynamos lead with 46 points followed by ZPC Kariba who are on 42 points. Last weekend, CAPS United moved to third position, pushing Highlanders down to fourth position.
However, the quartet is not guaranteed a top four finish as they are not far away from the trailing pack of Hwange, FC Platinum, Chicken Inn and rejuvenated Harare City who are placed fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
What makes the puzzle more complicated is the fact that most of the top eight teams are still to play each other in matches that would have a bearing on the title race.
Mbada Diamond’s corporate services executive George Manyaya said, as sponsors, they wanted to do away with the traditional way of selecting participants using the previous year log standings. He said this unique way would boost competition to the already exciting league.
“In most cases, sponsors ask the league to give them top four finishers of the previous year, but as Mbada, we said we want everyone to know this in time and start fighting for a better finish. This is going to make the rundown to the championship more interesting,” Manyaya said.
Mbada will fund the top-four teams’ transport, accommodation, branded kits and the man-of-the-match for the three games, but individual prizes like the goalkeeper, player and top scorer of the tournament have not been included.
Standardsport caught up with representatives from some of the clubs who harbour chances of taking part in the competition.
CAPS united coach Taurai Mangwiro said they are very much aware of the rewards that come along when playing in the Mbada Diamonds Cup and a number of players will move a gear up in order to finish among the best four and take part in this prestigious cup.
“This has definitely brought a new dimension in terms of competition. It is good that the sponsors announced the format in time. Now it’s up to clubs and players to choose what they want,” Mangwiro said.
“One thing that I would want to thank them for is making it a clear process with no favouritism at all. If any club is to miss, then they would have to blame themselves, not anyone. As CAPS, we will fight tooth and nail to win this as it is also another ticket to play in Africa.”
However, Highlanders chief executive officer Ndumiso Gumede said he was disappointed that the country’s richest knockout tournament which used to be held amid pomp and fanfare was losing its appeal.
“It’s sad that the sponsors have failed this time around to include everyone in the ring. We hope they will bounce back strong next year and include all the PSL teams. This is going to be a tough finish. Teams like Hwange and Chicken Inn are breathing on our back and will be hoping to be in there as well so we need to turn on the heat,” Gumede said.
Asked how they would feel if they failed to defend the cup, Gumede said it would be disappointing but football is played following a set of rules.
“Rules are rules and they are made to guide the game. If they had said top three teams including the defending champions, it was going to be good for us, but then if they say so and find out that the defending champions are in the top three as well, then they would be forced to make unnecessary changes, killing time and wasting resources. So rules are rules, they have to be followed, their decision is good and its final.”
Chicken Inn gaffer Joey Antipas said it was disappointing to hear that sponsors had changed the qualification process as well as reducing the number of teams to take part before adding that they had been challenged to work even harder.
“The old format has been good. There is nothing that we can do as clubs but everyone knows the rich pickings in this tournament. What we need to do is push for a top four finish, which I think is a tall order though,” Antipas said.
ZPC Kariba coach Saul Chaminuka expressed fear over how things are going to unfold with every club fighting for a top four finish.
“The most disturbing thing is that teams are not far away from each other in terms of points. If you look at it, eight teams still have a chance of making it into top four. The thing is every Zimbabwean knows what is at stake, open cheque, who doesn’t want money?” said Chaminuka.
“This season we are going to witness some tough battles for the top four slots because no one wants to miss playing in this cup. It’s going to pile up pressure on clubs that are already in top four. So we are expecting a lot of challenge, all in the name of qualifying for the Mbada Diamonds Cup,” Chaminuka said.
Chaminuka’s Kauya Katuruturu, will be making a maiden appearance in this competition following their promotion into the elite league at the beginning of the year if they finish among the top four.