AFTER raiding the market for all the finest football players available locally, Caps United will be taking their place in the annual Commanders ZNA Charities Shield at Rufaro Stadium tomorrow, a quarter-final match which will provide a good test against potential league title rivals in Harare City and a chance to lay down a marker ahead of the new season.
BY HENRY MHARA/FORTUNE MBELE
The Green Machine last won the league title a decade ago and while they finished the season strongly last term under Lloyd Chitembwe, their charge came a bit too late to make it into the elite four.
But after adding some big names to their squad in the last few months, the Harare giants are one of the pre-season favourites to mount a serious challenge for the title this year.
They might have lost Dominic Mukandi to city rivals Dynamos, who was probably the main reason why the team flourished later in the season, but in Archford Gutu, Tafadzwa Rusike, Method Mwanjale, Devon Chafa, Abbasi Amidu and Dennis Dauda, they have infused some very talented players who will certainly add experience and steadiness in their ranks.
Their success in Mozambique where they played four friendly matches, winning three and drawing one, points to a bright future.
A true assessment, though, of how far the team has progressed with their preparations for the new season will come tomorrow when they face off with Taurai Mangwiro’s Harare City.
City started their preparations for the upcoming league season early owing to their participation in the Caf Confederations Cup where they are through to the first stage after an impressive 6-3 aggregate win over AS Adema of Madagascar.
The Sunshine Boys will not only be using this match to prepare for the new season, which starts in four weeks’ time, but also to fine-tune their squad ahead of the potentially tough Caf Confederations Cup first round clash against Zanaco of Zambia.
Just like Caps United, City also strengthened significantly in the transfer window, adding on the likes of Ronald Chitiyo and Raphael Manuvire, who have both impressed thus far.
They will, however, go into the match without Francesco Zekumbawira, who lasted just 42 minutes in their away match against AS Adema through injury, while Caps United will also be without striker Simba Nhivi, who has a toothache.
In a bid to woe supporters to the match, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development has issued a waiver of route restriction for Harare-Chitungwiza commuter omnibus operators with valid licences.
In Bulawayo, Barbourfields will also explode tomorrow when league champions Chicken Inn take on city rivals Highlanders in another quarter-final, with both sides intending to send an early message to their league rivals.
The Gamecocks, very impressive in their Caf Champions League preliminary round defeat last week to Sundowns, will be without their head coach Joey Antipas for this match who will be in Harare for medical reasons.
His assistant Prince Matore will be in charge.
The team will be looking to recover from their early exit from the Caf Champions League where they were eliminated by South African side Mamelodi Sundowns after conceding a heartbreaking last-minute penalty to lose the contest 2-1.
Also missing in tomorrow’s match for Chicken Inn is defender Passmore Bernard, who gave away the penalty and injured himself in the process.
Matore said Bernard has a swollen ankle while skipper Danny “Deco” Phiri will have to pass a late fitness test for tomorrow’s match.
“The match comes at a good time when we want to test our strengths for the local league,” Matore said.
After impressing against Sundowns, Michelle Katsvairo, Edmore Chirambadare and former Highlanders man Obadiah Tarumbwa will be looking to carry on with their form.
Highlanders head coach Erol Akbay is also upbeat and said the tournament couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We have to win this match. It is very important for us to know how good and how bad we are. We are in pre-season. I am now in my second week with the team and the guys know what I want. I am looking at finding working combinations,” Akbay said.
Bosso’s main man Knox Mutizwa will be looking to start where he left off last season, while King Nadolo, full of potential last season, has a chance to show the world that he has come of age.
Meanwhile, FC Platinum, who have been going about their business quietly in Zvishavane, host the Kelvin Kaindu-coached How Mine at Mandava Stadium in the third quarter-final.
The Norman Mapeza-coached side finished third last season and after the club management invested so much into the team in the last few years, there is no doubt they will be demanding the title this season. And there is no better opportunity for Mapeza to fire some warning shots to his league rivals than doing a good demolition job on How Mine, who have also invested in Zambian Kaindu.
The winner of the three matches will join ZPC Kariba, who beat Dynamos 1-0 last weekend, in the semi-finals.
ZNA Charities Shield quarter-finals
Tomorrow: Caps United v Harare City (Rufaro), Chicken Inn v Highlanders (Barbourfields), FC Platinum v How Mine (Mandava)