The Sunday News
Lovemore Dube, Sports Hub Coordinator
THE Highlanders FC family will today feel the pinch over a lost opportunity to redeem themselves after 17 years of missing out on the Castle Lager Premiership title.
Yet when the final whistle is blown today they will be the ones to witness new champions on the local scene Ngezi Platinum Stars being crowned. The two sides will clash at Barbourfields Stadium in a dead rubber contest whose result has no bearing on the championship and relegation matrix.
Only four months ago Highlanders looked up on course to break the jinx and have Baltemar Brito follow in the footsteps of Eddie May who was the first expatriate coach to win the Castle Lager championship with the country’s most followed club by turnstile records.
Back in 2001 May finished the season in which the late Rahman Gumbo had started as firm favourites to make it three titles in a row, but the charismatic former Eagles, Cosmos, Njube United, Highlanders and Warriors midfielder was relieved of his duties and the British won the 2001 and 2002 championships. Several others Fred Mwila, Dickson Chama, Elroy Akbay, Pieter de Jongh and Kelvin Kaindu failed to deliver the title.
Unlike others Brito appeared on course to win the title after 19 games in which he was unbeaten. He had a poor attacking squad whose average was barely a goal a match but found himself at the top of the standings with the best defence in the league. When floodgates opened the club started donating points and goals at the same rate and fell several places on the log.
The bubble was burst and today the fans will watch the team do the honourable to the champions, a guard of honour on a day when all had pointed to Highlanders being serenaded on the last day of the season.
So many ifs will come from the terraces today but the bottom line is after this deplorable display of not so appealing football amid backroom squabbles on finances and administration, the Highlanders family will have time to reflect and probable find solutions to be presented and debated at the club’s annual general meeting at the end of January 2024.
The Highlanders FC fans will surely feel the hurt in cheering the visitors as they are crowned at the end of the match. Highlanders who appeared to be playing their traditional flairful football under Madinda Ndlovu and Joel Luphahla, will defend their pride and hope to finish the season on a high. It cannot be better than beating the league champions.
For Ngezi the title could just be waiting unpacking and presentation, there would be no better way to end the year than with a win in front of the Highlanders faithfuls at Barbourfields Stadium.
Two other matches have been lined up today with Hwange FC taking on Chicken Inn. Caps United will be up against Herentals who have had a decent season. It could not be established last night if Bongani Mafu and Try Ncube who were suspended two months ago would sit on the Hwange dugout after their suspension was lifted by the coalminers.
Donovan Bernard, Malvin Hwata and Michael Charamba of Chicken Inn will be out to cement their consideration for the 2023 Castle Lager Soccer Star of the Year selection at Hwange should they manage to deal with the heat threat.
The home team’s biggest arsenal could be familiarity with the weather conditions and teamwork could also carry the day for them.
Herentals engage Caps United without anything to lose as they have had a great season for a top eight finish.