It's the big kick off!. . . as FC Platinum's dominance comes under scrutiny

THE much-awaited big kick-off of the 2019 Castle Lager Premier season got underway on Friday — setting off big questions on which team is likely to end reigning champions FC Platinum’s two-year dominance — achieved on the back of a precipitous decline of the country’s big three.

Below the Daily News on Sunday assesses and gives the lowdown on eight teams and makes its own predictions.

FC Platinum
Key signings: Godknows Murwira, Perfect Chikwende, Rainsome Pavari, Lameck Nhamo
Last season: Champions
First five games: Harare City, Triangle United, Mushowani Stars, Hwange, Chicken Inn
The defending champions had a horrendous run in the Caf Champions League where they suffered the ignominy of finishing the whole campaign without victory.

This was surprising given their deep pockets and additions that had been made to a side already rich with eye-watering talent.
While it must be said that the platinum miners won football’s biggest domestic prize twice on the trot, their performances were not always swashbuckling and in most cases were aided by fading giants — Dynamos, CAPS United and Highlanders — whose financial woes often lead to industrial actions by their players.

However, FC Platinum on paper have the strongest side for this season and that gives the club real depth to compete for all local honours.
The Zvishavane-based side’s participation in the Caf Champions League gives them an advantage when it comes to match fitness and sharpness.

Ordinarily, this would also have been their Achilles’ heel but the calibre of players in their ranks provides massive cover for injuries and fatigue during the course of the season.

While Pure Platinum Play boasts a squad of incredible depth and quality, they were also active on the transfer market bought some exciting talent in the form of Murwira, Chikwende and Nhamo.
Murwira, who can play as a defender or attacking midfielder and made it onto the 2018 Soccer Stars of the Year list, will with no doubt give Mapeza more options while Nhamo could also be an answer to Platinum’s woes in front of goal.

The burly and powerful Nhamo finished last season with 16 goals, two behind eventual Golden Boot winner and Soccer Star of the Year Rodwell Chinyengetere. If he carries his last season’s goal-scoring form into the new campaign, there could be more champagne-popping in Zvishavane.
Established stars such as Ali Sadiki, Gift Mbweti, Kevin Madzongwe, Raphael Muduviwa, Kelvin Moyo and Gift Bello will all be looking to help Pure Platinum Play overwhelm opponents once again.

Mapeza will, however, have to be careful with his squad as it will again participate in the African safari when it commences in August.
The reigning champions would be desperate to do well but that could also divide their attentions and eventually help other teams seeking to end their local dominance.

Ngezi Platinum Stars
Last season: Second
Key signings: Osi Minuri, Barnabas Mushunje, Blessing Sahondo, Tawanda Machaya
First five games: Triangle United, Mushowani Stars, Hwange, Chicken Inn, Herentals
It’s rare to see a title-chasing team parting ways with coach in the title run-in period but it happened at Ngezi Platinum last season.
The club was still very much in the race when it sacked coach Tonderai Ndiraya who had moulded a very strong team during his nearly three-year stint at the Mhondoro Ngezi side.
Ndiraya’s replacement, Dutchman Erol Akbay, who previously coached Highlanders, has been tasked with revitalising a highly-talented squad.

Akbay earned a reputation of promoting exciting and attacking football during his time at Highlanders in 2017, where he led the Bulawayo giants to a sixth place finish with a relatively average side.

The Ngezi hierarchy has demanded the Dutchman to deliver the elusive title in only their fourth season in the top-flight.
The club appears to have left no stone unturned in its pursuit of the title and had a two-week pre-season camp in South Africa.
While in South Africa, they played practice matches with Absa Premiership sides Bidvest Wits, SuperSport United as well as reputable academies.

While they lost a sizeable number of their players from last season, Ngezi Platinum Stars still have in their ranks experienced players Liberty Chakoroma, Tichaona Mabvura, Marlon Mushonga, Donald Teguru and Xolisani Moyo.
They have brought in the highly-rated Nigerian forward Minuri from Southern Region Division One side Talent Vision while speedy winger Sahondo arrived from Chapungu.

There is no doubt Ngezi Platinum will be in the mix for the championship
Chicken Inn
Key signings: Clive Augusto, Malvin Gaki, Valentine Kadonzvo, Pakhamani Dube, Donovan Bernard
Last season: Third
First five games: ZPC Kariba, Yadah FC, Dynamos, Ngezi Platinum, FC Platinum
The Gamecocks have been touted as the most capable team to wrestle the title away from FC Platinum.
After finishing third last season, Joey Antipas raided the transfer market and splashed money on players he felt would blend well with an array of decent talent he already had at his disposal.
Apart from pinning down 2018 Soccer Star of the Year finalist Innocent Muchaneka, the Gamecocks retained ageless Clemence Matawu, Moses Jackson, Passmore Bernard and Obadiah Tarumbwa.

They also added to their books former Dynamos trio of Kadonzvo, Dube and Panashe Mutasa together with Sipho Ndlovu from relegated Bulawayo City.

From Ngezi Platinum Stars they snapped up goalkeeper Bernard and striker Augusto to add firepower upfront.
Antipas has already declared that his charges are ready for the 2019 campaign while the club’s executive have also made their intentions to lift the title publicly known.
Chicken Inn know what it takes to win domestic honours as they won the championship in 2015.
The Gamecocks assault on this season’s title charge would be the experience in their ranks. Antipas still has players who were part of the title-winning side.

The first five games will give a clear picture on how they are likely to set-about challenging FC Platinum’s dominance in this year’s “marathon”.
Key signings: Cleopas Kapupurika, Prince Dube, Bukhosi Sibanda, Nqobizitha Masuku, Mbekezeli Sibanda
Last season: Fifth
First five games: Black Rhinos, CAPS United, Harare City, Triangle United, Mushowani Stars
Coaching Highlanders is a demanding task and one has to be up for it. The country’s oldest team is always expected to fight for honours and this season is not an exception — even if there are neutrals who feel the team is still work in progress.
Highlanders fans have waited for glory for more than a decade and will feel this is their year given the additions that have been made to their team.

The likes of Masuku, Dube and Bukhosi Sibanda, have what it takes to help the Zimbabwean football giants mount a serious challenge on FC Platinum.
But as the economy continues to struggle, teams like Bosso, CAPS United and Dynamos, despite being touted as “best candidates” to attract sponsorship, struggle to keep players’ morale high.

Highlanders’ pre-season was not a happy one as the club was hit by player unrest over salaries and allowances.  Without a “bottomless financial pit” in the current economic climate, such incidents will always stalk Bosso.

Despite having inadequate time to prepare for the new campaign, Bosso coach Madinda Ndlovu, still has a strong squad which can go and challenge for the championship.
Whether Ndlovu’s side can close the gap on FC Platinum while holding off expected renewed pushes from the likes of Ngezi Platinum Stars and Chicken Inn, remains to be seen.
CAPS United
Last season: Eighth
Key signings: Phenias Bhamusi, Gabriel Nyoni, Clive Rupiya, Newman Sianchali, Pride Zivengwa, Blessing Sarupinda
First five games: Manica Diamonds, Highlanders, Chapungu, Black Rhinos, Bulawayo Chiefs
CAPS United should be challenging for the title every season, at least that is the expectation of the club’s faithful.

Historically, this is a club known for having a bountiful trophy cabinet as a result of hauls from the cup competitions.
But Makepekepe have tasted the league title and their fans have every reason to demand success each year.
However, if truth be told, you never know what to expect from the side which takes its supporters into dreamland with good performances but also dumps them in a pit of shame with equally dreadful performances.

Makepekepe finished last season in a lowly eighth place on the log, a massive 30 points behind back-to-back champions FC Platinum.

United were actually closer to the relegation zone than they were challenging for the title last season.
However, CAPS United fans have full faith in their coach Lloyd Chitembwe and will be anxious this time to put FC Platinum and any other “pretender” to the title, into the shade.
After a very, very poor 2018 season, club chiefs have supported Chitembwe in the transfer market and on paper appear to have a squad capable of mounting a serious title challenge.

The club completed the signing of winger Nyoni from Highlanders. Midfielder Ronald Chitiyo, who did not kick a ball for the whole of 2018, has also recovered from a knee injury and will probably be like a new signing for United after the long lay-off.
United have also added striker Rupiya from Chapungu while midfielder Zivengwa was signed from newly-promoted Gweru-based side TelOne FC.

The club also managed to retain the services of midfielder Joel Ngodzo despite interest from various other clubs.
Winger Bhamusi has returned to the Green Machine after a successful year with Triangle in which he helped the Lowveld side to a fourth place finish in the Castle Lager Premiership.
CAPS United look like the “real deal” but also you don’t know what to get from them — at least judging by their contrasting performances last season.
Last season: Eleventh
Key signings: Emmanuel Jalai, Edward Sadomba, Ngandu Mangala, Herve Mbega,
Junior Claude, Robert Sackey
First five games: Mushowani, Hwange, Chicken Inn, Herentals, TelOne FC
There should be no excuse for the country’s most supported and successful football club to miss on titles.
This is the unwritten rule at this club whose decline in the last few years made sad reading for those enamoured by its rich culture of winning.

Last year was perhaps the worst for Dynamos at this great club as players failed to play with convictions of people wearing colours of a mighty and hallowed football institution.
However, things are looking up for Dynamos and its supporters again.

The record-breaking former champions have clinched a whopping $5 million sponsorship deal and signed promising foreign players in addition to the returning Sadomba.
Dynamos coach Lloyd Chigowe has assembled a side that can compete with the
big boys.

There is no doubt the Glamour Boys will be 
desperate to compensate their fans who suffered heartache last season as they played atrocious 
football never before 
at this massive club.

With veteran Sadomba leading a cast of new players that also includes exciting Aces Youth Soccer Academy product Junior Selemani and exciting midfielder Congolese Mangala, there is hope.
Judging by the team’s off-season preparatory games, Dynamos appear to have the players and game plan to compete.
Although title challenge looks a step too far for DeMbare, their fans expect the big one to be delivered at the end of season.
Triangle United
Last season: Fourth
Key signings: Donald Mudadi, Tito Chintali, Obey Mwerahari, Bright Chayambuka,
First five games: Ngezi Platinum, FC Platinum, Manica Diamonds, Highlanders, Chapungu
The Lowveld side had a memorable 2018 campaign which saw them finishing fourth and winning the Chibuku Super Cup.
Taurai Mangwiro’s side was let down by inconsistency as it faltered when neutrals felt the Sugar Sugar Boys would gate crash their way into the title race.

The club lost its talisman Nhamo after he decided to join FC Platinum while Bhamusi returned to CAPS United.
Finding Nhamo’s replacement will be key in the Sugar Sugar Boys’ quest this season and the responsibility of finding goals will be on the shoulders of Young Warriors striker Delic Murimba and new signing Chintuli.

Triangle, however, might be distracted by participating in the African Confederation Cup but will certainly be one of the teams to look out for in the 2019 season.
Harare City
Last season: Ninth
Key signings: Walter Mukanga, Marshal Machazane, Peter Moyo, Milton Ncube, Tatenda Tavengwa
First five games: FC Platinum, Manica Diamonds, Highlanders, Chapungu, Black Rhinos
Harare City’s huge advantage over their rivals is their coach mark Harrison.

The Englishman has a reputation for being a restless innovator, an extremely thorough operator, who is prepared to adapt his tactics game-by-game and it was evident last season when he led the Sunshine Boys to a ninth place finish.

When Harrison took over last season, he inherited a side that was short of confidence and direction, having been relegated the previous year under Philani “Beefy” Ncube.
Harrison transformed them into one of the better playing teams in the league.

In trying to improve his side for the new campaign, Harrison signed Young Warriors midfielder Tavengwa from relegated Bulawayo City. The Sunshine Boys have also landed the former CAPS United pair of Ncube and Moyo while Mukanga joined from Ngezi Platinum Stars.

Harare City might prove to be a surprise package this season as it looks to build on the promise showed last season.


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