Battle royale at Mucheke

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MASVINGO comes to a standstill this afternoon when Castle Lager Premier Soccer League giants Highlanders and FC Platinum clash in the second quarterfinal of the $258 000 BancABC Super Eight competition at Mucheke Stadium.

WELLINGTON TONI

The first quarterfinal was played between Chicken Inn and Shabanie Mine at Mandava Stadium yesterday while Gibbo Stadium in Chiredzi will host the Motor Action-Monomotapa and Dynamos-Buffaloes double tomorrow.

Starved of Premiership football since Masvingo Football Club was relegated from the top-flight league two years ago, there is no doubt football fanatics will just be about happy to see the stars that have lit up Barbourfields and Mandava Stadium for their respective clubs.

Highlanders — the current log leaders — are based at Barbourfields in Bulawayo while Mandava is the home ground of Platinum.

Going into the match, Highlanders coach Kelvin Kaindu is under more scrutiny than the new boss at Platinum — Lloyd Mutasa.

Highlanders lost two games in a space of four days — going down 1-0 to Chicken Inn in a Harare Derby and 2-1 to Caps United in Harare, although they retained the leadership of the standings after nearest rivals Harare City were cleaned 4-1 by Hwange last weekend.

Limping into the match, Highlanders could be without pillars Innocent Mapuranga and Mthulisi Maphosa to withstand the Platinum firepower that will be driven from the midfield by the attacking trio of Charles Sibanda, Joel Ngodzo and Ali Sadiki.

While this is a chance for Highlanders to redeem themselves having last won a cup — Independence Trophy — in 2011, it will be a tall order as, suddenly, Njabulo Ncube has fizzled out while Masimba Mambare has not reached the heights of 2012.

Fellow strikers Graham Ncube and Beaven Chikaka have also not been coming to the party of late and Kaindu’s only hope remains Milton Ncube and young Ozias Zibande.

But against the experienced Daniel Vheremu in the heart of the Platinum defence, the pressure might just be too much to handle for the strikers.

Sadiki has seemingly unsettled the applecart at Platinum by declaring that he wants to return to Harare and his committement, should he fail to perform to expectations this afternoon, will be put under severe scrutiny by the technical team.

The combination of strikers Donald Ngoma and Nelson Maziwisa is also one to watch in this game, although it has never really provided the spark for pure Platinum Play.

Platinum have been training at Mucheke this week and will know the terrain better than Highlanders, who only arrived in the Ancient City on Thursday night. But Highlanders all but sealed their last league title in 2006 at this venue with a sweet 1-0 win over Masvingo engineered by Zenzo Moyo and Obadiah Tarumbwa under Methembe Ndlovu.

The purse for lifting this trophy is $120 000 and no team would want to take home $12 000 this afternoon by exiting at this stage. This sets the stage for a battle royale between the two teams.

Fans will also play a critical role in today’s match with Platinum well, resourced and closer-95 km-to bus in their green army of supporters than Highlanders. With the bitter rivalry of yesteryear between Highlanders and Masvingo still fresh, Platinum could also benefit from some “home” comfort.

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