WHO will be the king of football in the City of Kings in 2009?
The much-anticipated derby could hardly have come at an earlier stage of the season to provide early answers as PSL debutants Bantu Rovers clash with Highlanders at the Barbourfields on Sunday.
Football fans in the city hope that the clash relives the days when Highlanders would take on Amazulu, a flamboyant side owned by Delma Lupepe or bitter foes Zimbabwe Saints. Since then soccer has never been the same in Bulawayo as most teams have failed to knock Highlanders off their perch as in the days of Zimbabwe Saints and later Amazulu.
What makes the Bosso-Bantu clash more interesting is the pre-match hype that has been generated following last weekendâ€™s season opener.
The two teams had mixed fortunes in their opening matches, Highlanders prevailed 1-0 over an enterprising Gunners outfit, thanks to the blips and blunders from local referee Thabani Mnkantjo.
Mnkantjo denied the Harare visitors a genuine penalty but awarded Highlanders a controversial one. On the flip side, Bantu were given a taste of the conditions in the Premiership when they lost 2-0 to Sundowns in Gwanda on Saturday.
Tension has already started to engulf the pre-match environment. The hard-to-please Highlanders supporters reckon Bantu owner Methembe Ndlovu, a former Highlanders coach, sold out by establishing another outfit that is now challenging their teamâ€™s status as the strongest premiership outfit in the city.
At the beginning of the season, Bantu acquired three former Highlanders players, Washington Arubi, Lincoln Siwela and Nhlahla Dube.
Bantu spokesperson Londani Moyo conceded that the Sunday clash will be tough but said his team was capable of upsetting Bosso.
â€œIt is going to be a tough match but the boys are ready and raring to go,â€ he said. â€œThe morale in the camp is high, the boysâ€™ confidence levels are also high and I donâ€™t think the team will be easily intimidated by Highlanders.â€
Moyo also said the team would not be intimidated by the capacity crowd that is expected to witness the clash at Barbourfields.
Â â€œSome of our boys like Washington (Arubi), Herbert Dick, Graham Ncube and Thabani Moyo have been there before. They are going to help the new players withstand the pressure. This is the rightful stage for the young players to show they have got what it takes to compete at this level of the game,â€ said Moyo.
Highlanders secretary general Andrew Tapela said his team was not approaching the Bantu match differently from others.
â€œThere is nothing special about our opponents on Sunday,â€ said Tapela. â€œWe are preparing for the match like any other league match. There are no special preparations for us at Highlanders.â€
Tapela also said Highlanders captain Gilbert Banda will miss the match through injury.
Meanwhile, Bantu have won the battle to sign former Highlanders striker Obadiah Tarumbwa, it was revealed at a club press conference on Wednesday.
Tarumbwa spent the whole of last year at Belgian topflight side Cercle Brugge but was offloaded at the end of the season.
Bantu and Tarumbwa have agreed on a one-year deal, although the reverse international clearance from Belgium has not been issued yet.
But, according to club officials, all papers are expected to be in order by the weekend, paving way for Tarumbwa to play his former club in what could further heighten tension in this derby.
Â PSL fixtures:
Tomorrow: Eagles v CAPS United (Rudhaka); Gunners v Motor Action (Rimuka); Lengthens v Kiglon (Dzivaresekwa); Shooting Stars v Underhill (Rufaro).
Sunday: Dynamos v Black Rhinos (Rufaro); Bantu Rovers v Highlanders (Barbourfields); Hwange v Monomotapa (Colliery); Highway v Sundowns (Sakubva).
BY HENRY MHARA