ARE champions CAPS United back to their best after their morale boosting midweek victory over title challengers FC Platinum, or are reigning Chibuku Super Cup champions Ngezi Platinum Stars genuine title contenders for the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League crown?
BY SPORTS REPORTER
Well, Rufaro Stadium offers the perfect setting to partly answer the two questions as the two teams that represented Zimbabwe on the African safari at the start of the year lock horns in a potentially-explosive encounter this afternoon.
The reverse fixture at Baobab Stadium in Mhondoro in April ended in a two-all stalemate, with Ngezi grabbing a contentious injury time equaliser through striker Kelvin Bulaji to rescue a precious point after CAPS United had initially taken a 2-0 goal lead.
A lot has changed since the two teams last met, with Ngezi second on the long standings with a game in hand and in a strong position to win their maiden title, while CAPS United find themselves in an unfamiliar 14th position on the log standings.
Ngezi Platinum coach Tonderai Ndiraya, however, refused to read too much into his opponents’ struggles since their elimination from the CAF Champions League at the group stages.
In fact, the former Dynamos player and coach believes his charges should brace themselves for a tough encounter against the Green Machine, who he believes are a victim of their success last season and this year’s CAF Champions League campaign.
“It is a huge test for our team. We are playing the champions and that makes the game different from all other games. We drew 2-2 at our own back yard and we wait to see the outcome of this one in their own back yard,” Ndiraya told Standardsport yesterday.
“CAPS are a huge institution with a good coach and good players who have done the country proud in the Champions League. I believe they have been paying dearly for their success with the loss of key players, injuries and a backlog of outstanding fixtures.
“That disturbed their momentum but they are coming out of the woods now and have posted good results in the past days, which obviously boosted their confidence. It is certainly not a good time to play them but we are prepared as a team and I hope the fans will enjoy a predictably good game of football.”
Ndiraya has every reason to be wary ahead of today’s encounter as Ngezi, who are only in their second season in the top flight league, are yet to record a victory over their more illustrious opponents.
Last season Makepekepe collected four points from their two matches against the platinum miners after being held to a 1-1 draw in the two team’s first ever meeting, before the former grinded out a 1-0 win in November on their way to championship glory.
Their coach Lloyd Chitembwe, who seems to be slowly turning around the team’s fortunes after a retched run of form after the mid-season break, was, however, not giving anything away ahead of today’s encounter.
“It’s going to be a tough match, but we will try to do our best, like what we have always been doing since the start of the season. We have no injuries and we basically have the same squad from the previous match against FC Platinum,” he said when asked about his team’s expectations and his squad going into the match.
On what he expected from his opponents, Chitembwe said: “Nothing different; they have been playing well but we don’t want to focus too much on our opponents but on our own play.”
While CAPS United have a clean bill of health in their squad, Ngezi will have to do without defender Knowledge Machona, who is nursing a thigh muscle injury, as well as Takabva Mawaya, who is out with a bout of flue.
Castle Lager Premier Soccer League results and fixtures at a glance
Today: (kick-off is 3pm unless stated) Caps United v Ngezi Platinum (Rufaro), Hwange v Bantu Rovers (Colliery), Triangle v FC Platinum (Gibbo), Shabanie Mine v ZPC Kariba (Maglas), Highlanders v Tsholotsho (postponed)
Yesterday: Yadah 1-0 Chapungu, Black Rhinos 0-1 Chicken Inn, Bulawayo City 1-0 Harare City, How Mine v Dynamos (postponed).