BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
IT might be early days yet to predict how things will pan out, but FC Platinum’s Norman Mapeza and Caps United’s Lloyd Chitembwe, seem to be rekindling the exciting title saga between the two friends in the 2016 season whose honours eventually were won by the Green Machine.
At this stage, it would be folly for anyone to discount any team, even Highlanders, sitting in the relegation zone still have a chance, but from evidence presented so far, this could be another Mapeza versus Chitembwe classic.
It could be another title tussle between Mapeza’s pass masters and Chitembwe’s press masters for the 2019 honours.
Three years ago, Harare giants Caps United and FC Platinum pushed each other week after week to incredible heights. However, it was the Green Machine who beat their rivals to the biggest prize on domestic football at the tail end of the campaign — their first championship since 2005. They finished on 63 points, two ahead of FC Platinum.
It has been argued, the all-conquering squad of 2016, put together by Chitembwe, is one of the most brilliant sides in Caps United history. They went for an incredible 14 matches without tasting defeat only to be stopped by Highlanders who edged them 1-0.
Six matches have now been played in the new season and with the two teams at the top of the table, it points to history repeating itself.
While FC Platinum lead the pack with 14 points from six matches, Caps United have a game in hand and trail in second place with 13 points. Both teams are yet to taste defeat with FC Platinum having won four and drawn two while the Harare giants have won four and drawn once.
So much has been said about Caps United’s attack featuring the likes of Phineas Bhamusi and winger Gabriel Nyoni — one of the fastest strikers in the Premier Soccer League. That forward line has already banged in nine goals.
A thriving charity for opposing strikers last season in which they shipped in 30 goals to finish a distant eighth in the league, Chitembwe has transformed Caps United’s back line, thanks in no small measure to veteran defender Method Mwanjali whose experience appears to have stabilised things.
The Caps United gaffer has also reinvented Valentine Ndaba into an exciting left-back reviving what had started to look like a waning career.
New signing Blessing Sarupinda has been tasked with the anchoring role. The results have been remarkable.
Chitembwe attributed his victory over Harare City to discipline in defence, efficiency in attack and good game management.
“It was a very tactical game, especially in the second half when Harare City had to shift their team around and I thought we responded very well,’’ Chitembwe said.
“I have a strong feeling that we did everything in the first half where we got a goal and in the second half they tried to come at us, but we managed the game well.
“I am very happy and I am really impressed by the way the boys applied themselves. In terms of mental attitude, I thought they were spot on. They showed very high levels of concentration and composure. I am delighted by that performance. This is one game that we really needed the most. We, therefore, needed to be efficient in attack and disciplined in defence.’’
FC Platinum on the other hand have continued to be at their efficient best despite being dogged by injuries.
Their defence has been as water tight as it has always been since Mapeza took over. Like Caps, FC Platinum are building on a strong defence which is difficult to penetrate.
But after seeing his team fail to penetrate the Herentals defence on Saturday to play out a 0-0 stalemate, Mapeza will be looking to sharpen his forward line, whose effect diminished with the departure of Rodwell Chinyengetere.
However, it might not be just about Caps and FC Platinum. Chicken Inn, champions in 2015 are likely to have a say in the championship race this term. The lead at the top of the table has already changed hands once with Chicken Inn having also enjoyed a cool breeze at the summit, after dethroning FC Platinum.
The Bulawayo side have lost two and won four. Their two defeats have been inflicted by big teams Ngezi Platinum and FC Platinum but they can pick themselves up and put together a sustained winning run to put themselves firmly into contention.
Hwange, sitting in third place with 13 points having lost once, drawn once and won four should also be giving other contenders enough headache.