Inside sport with MICHAEL KARIATI
Over the past few years, matches between Dynamos and Highlanders — dubbed Battle of Zimbabwe — at Barbourfields Stadium have not ended in the best way possible. There has either been crowd trouble or the games have been abandoned mostly due to “bad” calls made by the match officials.
The situation has not been made any better by the Zifa Referees’ Committee, who over the same period have continuously appointed officials allegedly “married” to one of the clubs to handle such tension-filled matches.
Today, the two teams meet in the first of the two traditional yearly Castle Lager Premier Soccer League matches at Barbourfields in a game they both need the maximum three points to revive their dwindling league title hopes.
The two teams’ supporters are already on their edge as their teams have not been in the best of shape on the field of play. Of the two, Dynamos are better placed in 10th position on the 18-team assembly with 15 points, while Highlanders are way down the perking order in 15th place with only 11 points from 11 matches.
Each and every week, the two teams seem to be lagging behind as DeMbare are now seven points behind leaders Chicken Inn, while Bosso need 11 points to catch up with the Game Cocks, who also happen to be their neighbours.
Whatever the case is, there is nothing that makes Bosso fans happier than beating Dynamos, while Dynamos fans would rather prefer to lose to bottom-placed Bulawayo Chiefs than to Highlanders. This background has created an atmosphere of emotions, which have always boiled over during the course of play or after the game itself.
However, this should come to an end as there is no place for hooliganism in Zimbabwean football as real football fans want to enjoy the entertainment they pay for especially during this period of a harsh economic climate.
So far, there have been no bad incidents in the 18-team grouping since the season started on March 30, and it would not be good for Zimbabwean football for the most popular teams in the land to open that page of hooliganism and set a bad precedent for the season.
Highlanders are at home and obviously there is also going to be a huge Dynamos presence at Barbourfields. That, however, should not influence the match officials to make decisions that are not in the book of rules.
Whoever the match officials would be, should not be intimidated by the atmosphere or the crowd booings, but should stick to what he knows or deems are the best decisions.
Dynamos and Highlanders fans should also know that match officials are human and can also make mistakes and should avoid throwing missiles onto the field of play because this lowers the entertainment value they would have paid for after leaving their homes for the stadium for football.
All over the world and more recently in the Uefa Champions League, there were a lot of incidents in which match officials were accused of being biased, but never at any time did this result in violence as the football books are clear that “the referee’s decision is final”.
Only on one occasion this year was that disputed — that was — in the Caf Champions League final between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Esperance of Tunisia in which weeks later video replays showed that the disallowed Wydad goal was, in fact, genuine.
However, Zimbabwe does not have that video assistant referee (VAR) facility and as such there won’t be any replay or anywhere for the match officials to look at whether their decision was spot-on or not.
However, the match officials should not spoil what looks like a good football afternoon while the hooligans should stay away and let the real football fans enjoy the value of their hard-earned money.
Football is about winning, drawing or losing, and that should be what every football fan should know before leaving home for the stadium to watch the game. Let the better team win — in an atmosphere of camaraderie and fun.
Warriors’ biggest day
Saturday, June 21, is the biggest day for the Warriors when the Zimbabwe national football team enters the field of play for the first of their three 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Group A matches against hosts the Pharaohs of Egypt.
The Warriors are lucky to be in this situation because this is a game of world attention, not because the hosts would be playing, but because this is the opening game of Africa’s biggest football gathering.
The game will also set the tone for the remainder of the Zimbabwe team’s fourth Afcon campaign as it has a strong bearing on their future. A surprise win for the Warriors will make the whole world sit up and take notice, while a draw — which looks possible — could also stimulate interest in a team that is widely regarded as no-hopers.
A point from the Pharaohs would also not only boost morale ahead of the less demanding games against the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, but would also put Zimbabwe in good standing for qualification to the next round as they would only need three points in their remaining two fixtures.
The players should not take this opportunity to try to find new clubs, but should play as a unit as was the case in their qualification campaign which saw them top a group that also included Congo DR, Congo Brazzaville and Liberia.
It is a fact that most of the players are struggling for game time at their clubs and some are about to be offloaded, but reward will come when they progress further in the competition.
The more they go, the more the attention they will receive from bigger or new clubs.
Surely, after all the talk that has followed them since March 26 when they qualified for the finals, it is now time for the Warriors to prove that they have truly come of age — not at Afcon to learn.
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