Since 1980, only one team in Zimbabwean football history has managed to come straight from Division One and win the Premier Soccer League championship.
By Michael Kariati
That team was Zimbabwe National Army’s collection of stars called Black Rhinos Football Club which won the Northern Region Division One championship in 1984 before going on to win the then Super League championship in their first year of top flight football a year later.
The other team that came close to doing that was Harare City, who unfortunately faltered on the last day after an agonising draw against CAPS United pushed them into third place behind eventual winners Dynamos and second-placed Highlanders.
Harare City finished on 54 points, the same as Dynamos and Highlanders, but lost out on goal difference.
A year after Harare City nearly did it, and 29 years after that famous Black Rhinos act, a team called ZPC Kariba has shown promise that the Black Rhinos achievement can be repeated.
A fast and high tempo side with excellent team work and brilliant individuals, ZPC Kariba are a formidable and disciplined side with sound sponsorship.
With five matches remaining before the curtain comes down on the soccer season, the minnows are only two points behind leaders Dynamos with a home game against the defending champions still to come.
Coach Saul Chaminuka contends that his team are not out for the league title but to finish in the top four. He possibly wants to lead his opponents astray while he remains focused on his goal.
The Zesa sponsored team is also hoping to become the fourth modest side alongside the likes of Monomotapa in 2008, Gunners in 2009, and Motor Action in 2010 to win the league title.
Already, Chaminuka’s team has thrown up some surprises, proving that they cannot be taken for granted. Apart from that famous 1-0 win over DeMbare, ZPC have had the temerity to go for the entire duration of the first half of the season unbeaten after going for 19 games without a defeat.
Those who doubted their pedigree were made to think again after the modest Zesa sponsored team overcame Highlanders 3-1 in it’s famed hunting ground — Hartsfield.
It can be argued that ZPC Kariba do not have the prodigious Black Rhinos talents of the likes of the late great Stanley Ndunduma, Stanford Stix Mtizwa, Gift Makoni, Maronga Nyangela, Jerry Chidawa, Japhet Mparutsa, William Chikauro, and David Mukahanana who formed that great Chipembere side.
But there is some similarity with Rhinos in the manner in which the ZPC juggernaut has also been assembled. Just like Rhinos who were made up of players recruited from CAPS United, Dynamos and other teams, the core of the ZPC team has also been drawn from various teams in the Premiership.
More importantly is the fact that Chaminuka has placed more emphasis, not on skill, but on hard work and experience. That is the reason why he recruited Pride Tafirenyika and Limited Chikafa who have played for a number of clubs in the Premiership, including CAPS United.
There is also David Radiyoni, formerly of Monomotapa and later CAPS United as well as Tawanda Nyamandwe and Artwell Nyamihwa, proven goal scorers at all the clubs they have played for.
He has also called former national team trialist Elvis Meleka from Botswana’s Mochudi Centre Chiefs to add steel to the midfield as the season reaches its decisive stages. Meleka was voted the 2013 Botswana Premiership’s Player of the Year.
Just like Rhinos, ZPC Kariba are also being well looked after by their sponsors. The team is one of the very few clubs that can afford to be accommodated in three star hotels before their games, as evidenced by their stay at a Harare hotel before and after their 1-0 win over Triangle.
But if ZPC Kariba are to win the league title, and emulate Black Rhinos, then they will have to beat Dynamos themselves in the penultimate match of the season.
To their credit, they will go into the match against Dynamos full of confidence. Not just thanks to their previous 1-0 win but also because as underdogs, they have nothing to lose.
In fact, the ZPC Kariba will have to do it the hard way as they also have FC Platinum and CAPS United also queuing in their remaining fixtures.
However, Shepherd Mandizvidza, a Zesa public relations executive, is a strong believer in ZPC Kariba saying they will wrap up the championship when they play Dynamos. “The players are up to the challenge. They did it at the start of the season and they can do it again,” says Mandizvidza.
Mandizvidza says ZPC Kariba have played all the top teams in the past and have shown their mettle, adding that there is no reason why they cannot beat Dynamos, FC Platinum and CAPS United.
ZPC Kariba were expected in their first year of top flight football to be on a learning curve, but they have captured the imagination. What is now left is for them to have something to show for what has been a memorable season — the Black Rhinos record.
Should they fail to win the league title but still beat Dynamos home and away, they will still be remembered for that because they will be the only team in the Premiership to have managed to do that.