FOR all their rivalry at national team level and debate over the standard of domestic football in the two neighbouring countries, Zimbabwe and South Africa have constantly been kept part in continental club competitions.
Had they met often at this level, perhaps the debate would have been settled a long time ago. But that has not been the case.
The argument is likely to be stirred again when Zimbabwean champions Monomotapa meet South African champions Ajax Cape Town in the second leg, first round of the Africa Champions League at Rufaro Stadium in Harare on Sunday.
Monomotapa trail 3-2 after the first leg in Paarl a fortnight ago, a scoreline that leaves the contest well poised.
But can this match really be used to evaluate the strength of football in Zimbabwe and South Africa?
I have steadfastly refused to buy the idea that football is better here than down south.
For me the argument is rather naÃ¯ve â€” in fact, rather unsubstantiated by facts on the ground and based on a bandwagon line of argument and blind patriotism.
Indeed, when you look at the neat passing, the well-taken goals, the technique and the entertainment value of the South African premiership compared to the ping-pong you often see even from our big teams, you wonder just how one can reach the conclusion that local soccer is better.
How many times have you heard such arguments like â€œstandards are better here, just that South African football has more moneyâ€.
A sober observer would argue that more money must naturally translate to higher standards, quite clearly, because with enough money you are able to sign the best players on the continent.
In the recent past, some of Zimbabweâ€™s revered players have failed to make the grade in South Africa.
Also in recent seasons we have seen Brazilians even signing for clubs in South Africa â€” never mind the quality of the player: an average Brazilian would probably be still be miles better than a South African or Zimbabwean.
Perhaps the only criticism one would raise against the South African premiership is that it is too commercialised, made for TV and favouring their â€œshoeshineâ€ type of soccer at the expense of real toughness.
But who needs power play when most of your players possess natural flair. Besides, this kind of game suits countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia where players lack size compared to the rest of the continent.
The other argument that is often thrown around is that Zimbabwean players get â€œfinishedâ€ in South Africa. But remember Tinashe Nengomasha, who seemed lost at Motor Action here until Kaizer Chiefs gave him a lifeline (and werenâ€™t they chuffed with themselves they did!â€), Onismor Bhasera who became an instant hit at Amakhosi after not having played top-flight in Zim, and Benjani Mwaruwari who used the SA premiership as stepping-stone to greater heights in Europe.
Examples are awash.
It can be anything, but the battle between Monoz and the Urban Warriors is a contest between two clubs â€” not a barometer for leagues strengths.
The better team will win. That result cannot be used to define the structure and strength of a whole league or game.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJOÂ