THE country’s elite football league resumes on Saturday, heralding a winter of football never witnessed before in Zimbabwe.
Clubs will begin their hunt for the 2021 Chibuku Super Cup glory on Saturday.
The 16-team tournament has moved away from being a knockout contest into a mini-league competition, meant to allow for the smooth return of football. Pool A is made up of Caps United, Dynamos, Harare City, Herentals, Yadah and ZPC Kariba, and all their matches will be played at the National Sports Stadium.
Barbourfields Stadium will be home to Pool B that is made up of Bulawayo Chiefs, Bulawayo City, Chicken Inn and Highlanders.
Pool C has Black Rhinos, Cranborne Bullets, Manica Diamonds and Tenax, with their games being played at Sakubva Stadium in Mutare, while Mandava Stadium in Zvishavane will play host to Pool D that has FC Platinum, Ngezi Platinum Stars, Triangle United and Wha Wha.
The new-look contest carries a prize money of US$365 000 and Highlanders are the defending champions.
It’s a welcome return for players and coaches alike, many of whom have found the football-shaped hole in their lives hard to endure.
“I am happy to come back to routine,” said Chicken Inn head coach Joey Antipas in the lead-up to their match against Bulawayo City on Saturday.
“It has been a long absence of the game and we are happy to start football after a long layoff. The players are looking all good and we are looking forward to the game against Bulawayo City. We are also looking forward to doing well in the Chibuku Super Cup. We will have to test the boys with these opening matches,” added Antipas, who is Zimbabwe’s reigning Coach of the Year.
The environment into which Antipas and his peers come back to has changed. There is now a strict approach to hygiene, raising of the red flag on players spitting. It is not the only change and certainly not the most visible.
Every match is to be played without fans, the empty stadiums decoupling a dynamic between the stands and the pitch that has always been central to the sport and the success of the Premier League in particular.
Informed by their clubs on social media that they are missed, no one knows yet when fans will trickle through the turnstiles again. And so, the resumption of the season has become a spectacle made purely for Zimpapers Television Network (ZTN) and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) audiences.
Bosso suffered a massive blow ahead of their Chibuku Super Cup title defence with six of their players ineligible to play in the first round of the country’s most lucrative competition since they are yet to receive their international transfer certificates (ITCs).
Club returnee Joel Ngodzo, Winston Mhango, Keith Mavunga who were in Zambia, Peter Muduhwa who makes a return to the black and white army from an unsuccessful stint in Tanzania, ex-Orlando Pirates player Rodi Sibanda and Lynoth Chikuhwa who was in Botswana cannot play for Bosso in this cup’s contests because they do not have ITCs, which are required for them to be issued player licences.
The development has left the Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu-led Bosso technical department with just 20 players, that is 17 in-field and three goalkeepers for the demanding group stage of the cup competition where they will take part in six matches against Chiefs, Chicken Inn and Bulawayo City. All the teams are set to face each other twice.
“It will be difficult to defend the Chibuku Super Cup because I was planning with these players in mind, now that they are not available it’s tricky. I am only left with 20 players, 17 in-field players and three goalkeepers for the six matches which will be difficult for me,’’ Mpofu said.
Ultimately, the Premier League’s return is likely to be short on romance and long on pragmatism.