Let the games begin

Enock Muchinjo/Ndamu Sandu

THE Buddie Premier Soccer League (PSL) season kicks off this weekend with all 16 clubs in action. Will Caps United maintain their stranglehold on the league for one more season?
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Or can city rivals Dynamos finally lay to rest the ghost that has been haunting them in the last eight years? Or can former champions Highlanders reclaim what they believe should never have left their cabinet?

IndependentSport previews the season and predicts the prospects for the 16 PSL teams.


Amazulu


No major improvement is expected from Delma Lupepe’s team this season from last season’s final third position in the league. The 2003 PSL champions need a miracle to lay hands on the championship trophy again.

Lupepe’s interference on team selection will continue to haunt the team. The sooner he recuses himself from selection the better!


No major signings were made in the off-season, with reports that cash is no longer flowing smoothly at the colourful Bulawayo side.

Predicted final position: 6


Black Rhinos


The army side have never been serious title contenders, and nothing is expected to change this time round. However when the likes of former national team midfielders Lazarus Muhoni and Gift Kamuriwo click, Chipembere will beat any team on the day.


Players like defender Allen Mutasa and striker Robson Chisango are key to the team. What remains to be seen is whether coach Nesbert Saruchera will apply the skills he learnt in South Africa in the off-season.

Predicted final position: 9


Buymore


The Chitungwiza outfit return to the elite league having been relegated in 2002. A new breed of administrators, led by youthful businessman Wavell Gunda, is now bankrolling the club. They have brought in new players in the form of former Dynamos defender James Matola and linkman Francis Chandida to boost the promising outfit. They should however be content with a lower mid-table position.


Predicted final position: 7


Caps United (defending champions)

The reigning champions enter the new race as favourites to retain their title. It will take something extra special for Caps’ rivals to dislodge the force that Charles Mhlauri has created.


Mhlauri has inculcated the gospel of teamwork among the players and it has worked in their favour. Caps’ strength revolves around the attacking prowess that begins at the back where captain Laughter Chilembe leads by example.


Underrated playmaker Artwell Mabhiza controls the midfield with great composure in a department that also boasts valued additions in Malawian teenage sensation Joseph Kamwendo and the recovered anchor Ashley Rambanepasi.


Upfront Leonard Tsipa and Brian Badza can cause damage to any defence, and their form will have a major influence on results.

Predicted final position: 1


Chapungu


The Gweru side used to occupy the mid-table as their comfortable zone every year. But their world crumbled around them when they were sent packing in 2003. That might have marked a turning point in the club’s fortunes, and even the return of prodigal son Maxwell Dube may not save the airmen from a quick return to Division One in 2006.

Predicted final position: 16


Dynamos


If the hype surrounding the rebuilding exercise at the club is anything to go by, DeMbare will emerge as the biggest challenge to city rivals Caps United for the title. The popular Harare outfit have the capacity for a significant revival this season after eight years of misery.


Coach Sunday Chidzambwa will hope that the highly rated former Zimbabwe Saints midfielder Mtshumayeli Moyo and Zambian Clive Mwale will provide the formidable driving force that the team solely need.


Predicted final position: 2


Eiffel Wildcats


Formerly Eiffel Flats. Recently merged with Kadoma Wildcats to form Eiffel Wildcats. They will need to play consistently well to survive the chop at the end of the season.


Predicted final position: 15


Highlanders


The former league champions have the pedigree to end Caps United’s honeymoon if they get their act together. Bosso are the only team that stopped steamrolling Caps last season.


With the Buddie Charity Shield already in their cabinet, the former champions have the potential to reach dizzy heights. Once again Bosso will pin their hopes on Honour Gombami, the grappling Gift Lunga and Ralph Matema.


But Bosso have to contend with the loss of Dabwitso Nkoma to Motor Action in the off-season.


Predicted final position: 3


Hwange


The coalminers’ hopes rest on the shoulders of goalkeeper Timothy Sibanda and striker Takesure Chinyama whose performances last season have earned them a call-up to the national team. Hwange have the potential to cause upsets.


Predicted final position: 13


Lancashire Steel


The Willard Khumalo-coached side will have to grapple with the loss of key players Malvern Nyakabangwe and Isaac Nyausaru to Masvingo United.

Predicted final position: 14


Masvingo


Masvingo are here to stay in the premiership if their off-season spending spree is anything to go by. With the acquisition of Nyakabangwe and the lethal finishing skills of Lloyd Hlahla, the busmen will survive relegation.

Predicted final position: 12


Monomotapa


Making their debut in the premiership, Monomatapa have already accounted for seasoned campaigners Motor Action in a friendly match last month.


The cash-rich side have been bolstered by the signing of four Malawian

internationals — Peter Mponda, Allan Kamanga, Phillip Nyasulu and Robert Ng’ambi who will form the nucleus of the team. Monomotapa are the team to beat this season.


Predicted final position: 4


Motor Action


Eric Rosen’s side have the pedigree to finish the season in the top five. In the off-season Motor Action were active on the transfer market, acquiring soccer stars Nkhoma and Njabulo Ncube from Highlanders and Railstars respectively.


Siza Khoza reunited with his former mentor at Highlanders Rahman Gumbo by crossing the floor from Caps. It remains to be seen whether Gumbo’s acquisitions will provide the Midas touch in Motor Action’s quest for success.


Predicted final position: 5


Railstars


Is there life at Railstars without Njabulo Ncube? Though the rail men would want to believe Ncube was not the whole team, Railstars have to find a reliable goalscorer if they are to entertain any chances of staying in the lucrative premiership. Last season Ncube single-handedly led the campaign for Railstars.


The nomadic Droment Chirova will be in charge of the side. The former Rhinos and Kambuzuma mentor has the unenviable task of assembling a side that can compete with the best.


Predicted final position: 8


Sundowns


The team’s quest this season will be to survive relegation, as they have no realistic chance of finishing in the top-eight on the log.

Predicted final position: 10


Shabanie Mine


Shabanie Mine will continue living in the shadows of the team that caused a stir in their debut season in 2001. Then led by Solomon Kaseke, the asbestos miners were invincible at Maglas. However, the world has been crumbling ever since Kaseke’s departure.


With the loss of coach Moses Chunga to Division One side Gunners, Shabanie do not have the arsenal to challenge for top honours.

Predicted final position: 11


Week One Buddie PSL fixtures:


Saturday — Black Rhinos v Caps United (Rufaro), Sundowns v Motor Action.

Sunday -— Dynamos v Masvingo (National Sports Stadium), Hwange v Monomotapa (Colliery), Buymore v Amazulu (Rufaro), Lancashire v Chapungu (Baghdad), Shabani v Eiffel Wildcats (Maglas), Highlanders v Railstars (Barbourfields).