Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
THE last time a school from Bulawayo won the country’s most prestigious soccer tournament, Copa Coca-Cola was way back in 2001 when Mzilikazi were crowned champions.
When Mzilikazi, winners of the inaugural tournament in 1989, dominated the competition, it was still for the Under-20 age group and no school from Bulawayo has ever won it since it changed to Under-16. This year, the sponsors, Coca-Cola decided to reduce the age further by making the competition for Under-15 for both boys and girls.
For such a province like Bulawayo, which has produced talented players who have excelled at national level, failure at such a tournament is hard to understand.
At this year’s national finals to be played in Bindura on Friday and Saturday, Lobengula as well as Mpopoma carry the hopes of an expectant province.
Lobengula took the boys’ title with a 4-2 on penalties triumph over Mzilikazi in the final. A day later, Mpopoma recorded a 1-0 victory over Townsend to book a ticket for the national finals.
Lobengula coach, Joseph Mukanganise, whose school had never before qualified for a national soccer tournament likened their success as a typical rags to riches tale.
“It feels so great, this is the story that we always hear that it’s from rags to riches, I am so excited, we came here as underdogs and we actually pulled up a shocker. We worked very hard to come to where we are so I am excited, the boys are excited, everyone is so excited,’’ said Mukanganise.
Lobengula are well known for their exploits in handball where they have for a number of years represented Bulawayo at the national finals of that sport.
“This is one of the prestigious tournaments in the land and by winning it, it means you would have achieved a lot, you would have worked so hard, we have worked hard as a school for so many years to reach this point, where we are right now. I am really happy that we managed to do something for our school, for the district, for Bulawayo as a province,’’ Mukanganise said.
He is grateful for the support they got from headmistress Lindiwe Moyo and sports director Dumezweni Sibanda which he believes played a part in their success at the provincial finals.
“Our trick was simple, we have got a sports director who is so much supportive, who supports you all the way. Our sports director Dumezweni Sibanda has supported us so much, even the administation has supported us so much.
“If you have got support you can always succeed in life. What I basically think was the recipe was the support that we got from everyone in our school. Apart from that, practice makes perfect, we have been practicing a lot with these youngsters to reach this stage at which we are,’’ he said.
Just to show how serious they are about their participation at the national tournament, Lobengula returned to training last Monday. Mukanganise underlined their desire to represent not only their school and district but the province as well.
Lobengula qualified to the provincial finals by virtue of their third place finish in the Mzilikazi districts finals. With the district enjoying hosting rights, they decided that the top three boys’ teams proceed to the provincial event.
Mpopoma showed great form from the time they beat last year’s provincial champions Magwegwe 3-2 in the Mzilikazi district final. With prolific striker, Nomthandazo Ngano who has scored 19 goals in this year’s Copa Coca-Cola, 10 at district level and nine at the provincial finals, Mpopoma could finally bring the girls’ trophy for the first time to Bulawayo. In the five matches they played at the provincial finals, Mpopoma did not even concede a single goal.
According to the draw conducted at last year’s boys champions, Mpopoma will play against Mwenezi of Masvingo and Harare champions Vainona. For Lobengula, their opponents are Rusununguko of Mashonaland East and the Manicaland winners Takwirira.