BY FORTUNE MBELE
WARRIORS and Highlanders goalkeeper Ariel “Mangoye” Sibanda has been in sparkling form on the domestic scene in the past two seasons.
Last year he was voted the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League’s Goalkeeper of the Year and seems to be leading the race for the gong as Highlanders’ only consistent performer in the current league campaign.
Sibanda has kept 14 clean sheets so far this season, saving four penalties and scoring three goals from 12-yards to duly earn national team recognition in the ongoing qualifiers for next year’s African Nations Championships (Chan) finals.
It was a recognition, which seemed long-overdue for the 30-year-old goalminder, who missed out on selection in the Warriors squad for the 2019 Afcon finals after he was overlooked by the then coach Sunday Chidzambga.
Sibanda was the first choice goalkeeper when Zimbabwe played Mauritius over two legs in the first round of the 2020 Chan qualifiers in July and August before deputising Dynamos’ Simba Chinani in the first leg of the final round of qualifiers against Lesotho last month.
The seasoned goalkeeper is also expected to be on the bench when the Warriors face Lesotho this afternoon in the second leg in Maseru.
While many believe he deserves more, having been one of the most consistent goal minders in the domestic top-flight league in recent years in addition to his tons of experience, Sibanda does not harbour any regrets and says he enjoys just being part of the national team whether he starts or not.
“I don’t regret anything. I think at national level we are all the same. It is just a matter of who would have been given a chance. I don’t think I am overlooked,” Sibanda told Standardsport.
“Maybe it’s because of the extra-hard work that the other goalkeepers put in training to outdo my club level performances.”
If anything Sibanda reckons that the Warriors’ feel has given him a lot of experience.
“I have a chance to do better training at national level. It is such a good experience being in the national team because you learn a lot from the players and coaches,” he said.
Sibanda, who is in his prime, continues to make waves in the local league despite the Bulawayo giants struggling in the league, perching in an unfamiliar position 10th place.
But club statistics speak volumes for the veteran goalkeeper whose 16 clean sheets in 32 league appearances last year earned him the goalkeeper of the year gong.
He saved two penalties in the league from Triangle’s Russell Madamombe at Gibbo and Roderick Mutuma of relegated Nichrut in an away game.
A good penalty taker, Sibanda also converted two spot-kicks last year.
In this year league programme, he has made 25 appearances and kept 14 clean sheets with seven games to the end of the season.
He saved four penalties from Harare City’s Walter Mukanga at Rufaro Stadium, Yadah’s Ralph Matema also in Harare, Hwange’s Gilbert Zulu at Barbourfields Stadium and Herentals’ Richard Hachiro in the capital.
That feat mean Highlanders has conceded only 19 goals so far despite a bad season with champions FC Platinum having conceded 13 between goalkeepers Petros Mhari and Wallace Magalane and ZPC Kariba having let in 18 goals.