Last season it was a bit predictable. Even Standardsport boldly tipped FC Platinum to win the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League and they did just that.
The 2018 league season roars into life next weekend and it promises top the one of the fiercest battles in recent years with as few as six genuine potential title challengers.
BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
If pre-season form is anything to go by, Harare giants Dynamos have already stuck out their hand as one of the favourites after they lifted the Zimbabwe National Army Charities Shield that also involved Chicken Inn, CAPS United and eventual losing finalists Highlanders.
After folding business in the CAF Champions League early, FC Platinum are now in a much stronger position to successfully defend their title, but former champions CAPS United are the biggest recruiters in the off-season break.
Highlanders are bringing into the new season a young side capable of thriving in the league, while Ngezi Platinum Stars have made telling additions to a squad that finished third in the championship last year.
Chicken Inn have made their ambitions known, bringing back shrewd tactician Joey Antipas, who guided them to a maiden triumph in 2015. Add ZPC Kariba and Harare City, two sides with the pedigree to put up a real fight, then the list of potential contenders balloons to eight.
FC Platinum will start their title defence without head coach Norman Mapeza, who recently had surgery, and assistant coach Lizwe Sweswe takes charge of the team.
Sweswe is already bracing up for a tough competition for top positions on the log standings.
“From what I have read and seen during the off-season, it going to be one of the toughest seasons in recent years in terms of fighting for the championship. Highlanders, Dynamos and Ngezi Platinum have recruited good players and have quality squads so it’s going to be tough,” Sweswe told Standardsport.
“It’s been very long since Highlanders won the championship, the same for Dynamos and for such big clubs they will give their all this season to end the wait. Basically there are more teams fancying their chances this season which makes it more difficult.”
The Zvishavane-based side travels to Nyamhunga for a date with ZPC Kariba as they begin the bid to retain the league title.
FC Platinum might have had to deal with a gruelling fixture list if they had progressed to the next round of the CAF Champions League, but they failed to clear the initial hurdle against Angolan side Clube Desportivo de Agosto.
The early exit from the African Safari may have been a blessing in disguise for the Midlanders.
“The fact that we have played in the Champions League means we have learnt one or two things which we can employ in the league. The team is motivated to defend this title, the players know what to expect this season and they know it’s going to be difficult,” Sweswe said.
Last season FC Platinum made history, becoming the first team from outside Harare or Bulawayo to win the league title since 1966. They have bolstered the squad, bringing in players such as Jameson Mukombwe, Farai Madhanhanga, Never Tigere, Farai Mupasiri and Cameroonian Albert Eonde, among others.
CAPS United, who ceded the championship to Pure Platinum Play, have been busy during the off-season roping in a number of top players notably Method Mwanjali, Denver Mukamba, Praise Tonha, Dominic Mukandi, Milton Ncube, Brian Muzondiwa, Wisdom Mutasa and Munyaradzi Diya.
The Green Machine coach Lloyd Chitembwe has assembled a squad capable of running away with the title.
An air of invincibility has suddenly returned in the Dynamos camp this season, especially with the emergence of a crop of young player such as Kudzanayi Dhemere, Valentine Kadonzvo and Panashe Mutasa.
Dynamos have also signed experienced players in Blessing Moyo, Jimmy Tigere and Raphael Manuvire while Ngezi Platinum have gone about their business quietly, but their executive has demanded the league title.
The return of Madinda Ndlovu has brought belief that Highlanders may win their first league title in 12 years, but the club legend has opted to the unknowns for the dangerous mission.
Bulawayo Chiefs, Nichrut, Herentals and Mutare City join the big boys’ league for the first time, perhaps one of them can spring a surprise and run-away with the title.