insidesport:with MICHAEL KARIATI
THE Castle Lager Premier Soccer League (PSL) championship race is getting more and more competitive by each passing season, but what is more significant is the strides that the Zimbabwean game has made in Pan-African club football.
One does not need to be told as events on the ground are evidence enough to show how Zimbabwean clubs are gradually moving to the class of the best in Africa.
FC Platinum have for the second year running reached the group stages of the Caf Champions League following hard on the heels of CAPS United, who were also among the best 16 football teams on the continent in 2017.
Triangle are enjoying their life in the sun in the Caf Confederation Cup and are only 180 minutes away from also reaching the lucrative group stages of the competition, having won all the four matches they have played in the tournament so far.
This is a far much different story from the events of over the past few years as between 2010 and 2016, Zimbabwean clubs failed to make an impression in Africa with the best they did being way back in 2010 when Dynamos reached the group stages of the competition, but were a big disappointment later.
This newfound success in Africa has been brought about by the improved standards and the competitiveness of the PSL, which this season is heading for another close finish as was the case in 2016 when the title was taken away by CAPS United and in 2017 when won by FC Platinum.
As at week 24, leaders CAPS United and sixth-placed Ngezi Platinum Stars were separated by only nine points, a difference which is not much in football nowadays. This means any of the top six teams — CAPS United, Chicken Inn, FC Platinum, Black Rhinos, ZPC Kariba, and Ngezi Platinum Stars — have an equal chance of winning the title and representing Zimbabwe in the 2020 edition of the Caf Champions League.
However, after a change of coach and their participation in the Caf Champions League group stages, there is also no guarantee that FC Platinum will take the league title as they have done over the past two years due to the stiff competition at hand.
In fact, that CAPS United are at the top of the table has made the Green Machine family excited, but they should not forget that they were once there at the summit of the 18-team table and fell off the tree before their latest recovery.
The fact that the league title leadership has also changed so many hands — including those of Black Rhinos, Chicken Inn, FC Platinum, and ZPC Kariba — is a clear indication that there is no guarantee that Makepekepe would still be there at the top after the next two games.
So being at the top right now is nothing to get excited about, but CAPS United should strive to get into celebration mood only after they are still at the top after their last game of the season at home to FC Platinum at the National Sports Stadium.
So, as things stand right now, the league title is anyone’s for the taking, but what is heartening is the fact that the Zimbabwean game has not only become more exciting, more entertaining and more competitive, but is also discovering more and more new talent.
A number of exciting young players have emerged and the changing rooms of all the teams in the Premiership including bottom-placed Yadah are flooded with new and exciting players unlike over the past few years when the same old players were always on the fans’ lips.
Yes, the likes of Prince Dube, Joel Ngodzo, Phineas Bhamusi and Denver Mukamba are still turning on the style in the Premiership, but it is the likes of Evans Katema of Dynamos, Ian Nekati of ZPC Kariba, Ray Lunga and McClive Phiri of Highlanders, Wellington Taderera of Black Rhinos, Ian Nyoni of Chapungu and Nomore Chinyere of Hwange, among others, who have brought pride in the smile and gusto in the applause.
Sadly, though, the tragedy of Zimbabwean football is that the Zimbabwean game cannot hang onto that talent due to the economic situation which every season forces players to leave for foreign lands where they are better paid.
However, what is encouraging is the fact that the Premiership has each year been able to replace the departed talent with even more exceptional talent as evidenced by the show going on in the 2019 soccer season, and the Warriors’ status in the run-up to the African Nations Championships (Chan)
What is surprising, however, is the fact that at a time the fight for the championship is getting tighter and more exciting by the day and the battle for survival even more intense, crowd attendances have not matched the excitement on the field of play due to the harsh economic climate in the country.
Gone are the days when football was good and the crowds good too, but now the football is going up every week, but the fans are deserting the stadiums week-in and week-out, and one wonders when domestic football will once again attract crowds of around 20 000.
So far, it is so good on the field of play but at whatever cost, Zimbabwe football must find ways of bringing back the crowds to the stadiums.
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