WITH the Castle Lager Premier Soccer league season reaching the halfway mark, FC Platinum are already out of side for 16 of the 18 teams while Ngezi are still in with a fight despite a sudden loss of form in their last three matches.
BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
The league is now composed of the two platinum teams in a battle of their own, with the rest watching in the sidelines.
FC Platinum’s six-point lead has given them firm control of their destiny as Ngezi slipped with three defeats in as many matches.
After overcoming 1-0 to open a six-point lead at the top on Saturday, Norman Mapeza’s hopes of successfully defending their championship continue to brighten up.
What is fascinating about this season, is that the top teams have collected more points than they did last time and as it stands, FC Platinum are eyeing a record points haul.
At half way stage they have collected 44 points compared to 32 after 17 matches last season where they claimed the title with a total of 72 points.
And judging by the way they have gone about their business thus far, it is increasingly becoming difficult to imagine them surrendering the lead.
This time last season, Mapeza’s men who had drawn eight matches with one defeat, have been so ruthless this term that they have drawn just two and lost one.
Should they manage to lay their hands on the championship this season, they will become the first team outside the Big Three — Dynamos, Highlanders and Caps United — to win back-to-back championships.
More importantly, FC Platinum have cleared most of the hurdles that threatened their championship bid last term after overcoming Ngezi Platinum 2-1 at their fortress — the Baobab where they lost the previous season. They have also defeated Dynamos in Harare (2-0) and drew against Caps United (0-0) at the National Sports Stadium, while Chicken Inn were dismissed 2-0 in their own backyard. Highlanders also suffered a 1-0 defeat at Mandava, thus Ngezi, Dynamos, Caps United and Chicken Inn still have to visit FC Platinum at Mandava, suggesting it could be difficult for them to be dislodged from the top.
Yet just a few weeks back, Ngezi Platinum were in an irresistible form that they went for 14 matches without tasting defeat with impressive victories over Caps United (2-1), Dynamos (1-0), Chicken Inn (1-0) and Highlanders (1-0). But now they appear to be slowly surrendering the chase following three successive defeats to Bulawayo Chiefs (1-0 ) FC Platinum (1-2) and Black Rhinos (2-1)
At this stage last season, Ngezi Platinum had garnered a total of 32 points from 17 matches, the same as rivals FC Platinum and with 38 points in the bag in the first half of this season from the same number of matches, there is a great improvement by Tonderai Ndiraya’s men, yet they are a disappointed lot. The two teams have literally turned the championship into a two-horse race. Ndiraya remains optimistic they can bounce back. “Losing three goals in a row is not a good thing, it really dents our chances of winning the title but we still have 17 games to go. That is still a very long way to go, we just have to lift ourselves from the mess which we are and I think the boys can,” he said on Sunday.
“Thank God we have a mid-season break coming, we have about two-and-a-half weeks to recharge, re-energise ourselves and start all over again. Yes we have lost the third game in a row but look we had gone 14 games unbeaten and that is a record that got us probably in a comfortable zone and which I think and believe got us in this mess that we are in.
“When you are on top, naturally when you fall down; you fall down hard. That’s what we have done in the past three games but we will remain hopeful and we know what we want. It’s a very long journey, we have a six-point difference and it is quite a huge number of points between us and our competitors. We will keep hoping and we keep fighting,” said Ndiraya.
Dynamos, who finished as runners up last term, slipped heavily to 10th place with only 20 points after 17 matches of the campaign. Last season they had the highest number of points (33) after 17 matches and although they appear to have found their footing in the last two matches, they will need a miracle to win the championship this term.
But Caps United appear to have a realistic chance with 29 points from 17 matches compared to last season when they managed only 24 points from the same number of matches.
Caps United technical director Nelson Matongerere has said they will be looking to collect more points in the second half than they did in the first.