The 2016 Zimbabwe soccer season has come to an end and what a season it was!
It was a season which saw Zimbabwe qualify for the Africa Cup of Nation finals for the third time in history. It was also the year that Caps United was crowned the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League champions after 11 years of unsuccessful attempts.
It was a year that saw the Mighty Warriors qualify to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro but come back home empty-handed after 6–1 defeats at the hands of Germany and Canada and a 3–1 loss to Australia. The Mighty Warriors also qualified for the 2016 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations where they finished fourth in their group after losses to Cameroon and Egypt and a draw against South Africa. Watching the Mighty Warriors play at both tournaments, it is clear that the women’s soccer team could have done better had they been accorded the same treatment as the men’s team.
The Mighty Warriors – who are still owed money for their participation at the Olympic Games – did not play any serious friendly matches prior to the global sporting competition and were in camp for only 10 days before their departure to Cameroon for the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations.
On their part, our men’s team, the Warriors, made it to the continental football festival after finishing top of the table in their group with 11 points from six games, three ahead of second placed Malawi and Guinea with Swaziland way behind on five points. As a result, the Warriors will be making the trip to Gabon in January 2017 to the finals where they have been drawn in the same group as Algeria, Senegal and Tunisia. Coach Kalisto Pasuwa has promised that the Warriors will do better than previous Zimbabwean teams who were knocked out in the first round in 2004 and 2006.
However, the journey to the Africa Cup of Nations was not without drama. The Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) suspended former Chief Executive Officer Henrietta Rushwaya, board member Edzai Kasinauyo and Warriors assistant coach Nation Dube for allegedly trying to fix the Warriors’ matches against Swaziland. Although the three had the case against them dismissed in court, they have not been allowed back into football.
2016 Zimbabwe club champions Caps United won the title last month on the last day of play after a 1–0 win over Chapungu gave them a total of 63 points over second place FC Platinum’s 61 points. Caps had gone into the last day of the programme two points ahead of FC Platinum and maintained their lead after Kugona Kunenge Kudada also won 3–0 against Tsholotsho Pirates. Club owner Farai Jere immediately declared that ‘Makepekepe’ would undertake the daunting task of trying to win the CAF Champions League in 2017.
For Caps coach Lloyd Chitembwe, this will be a season to remember. Chitembwe became the first ever former Caps United player to win the league title as head coach of the team. He also became the first Caps United man to win the championship as both player and coach as he was part of the Makepekepe side that won the title in spectacular fashion back in 1996. “This is a great moment for me and for the players. The players worked hard for it and I owe everything to them,” said Chitembwe.
For FC Platinum and their coach, Norman Mapeza, the year in football did not turn out so well. For all their efforts throughout the season, FC Platinum finished the year with nothing to show for it. On top of losing the league title on the last day of play, Kugona Kunenge Kudada also missed out on the Chibuku Super Cup following their 3–1 loss to Ngezi Platinum Stars in the final. “It was a good year that ended badly. We deserved at least one of the major trophies. We are not resting and are hoping for better luck next season,” said Mapeza.
FC Platinum’s conquerors in the Chibuku Super Cup final, Ngezi Platinum Stars will represent Zimbabwe in the CAF Confederation Cup. Highlanders won the less prestigious Zimbabwe National Army Charities Challenge while NetOne withdrew their sponsorship of the One Wallet Cup featuring eight of the top teams according to the previous season’s league standings.
It wouldn’t be a soccer season without controversy. At the time of going to press, it was uncertain how many teams would be relegated and how many promoted into the Premier Soccer League after the ZIFA Assembly reversed an earlier decision made to relegate two teams in favour of four. The Premier Soccer League Assembly is against this decision and wants to make a follow-up decision at the beginning of the season to relegate and promote two teams as originally communicated to the clubs at the beginning of the season.
All four teams selected won their Division One Championships and the affected teams from the PSL are not sure where they stand as a concrete decision on relegation and promotion was still to be made. The four selected teams are Black Rhinos, Yadah, Bantu Rovers, and Shabani Mines. In the ensuing disagreement, ZIFA suspended PSL chairman Peter Dube and Caps United boss Lewis Uriri for allegedly inciting PSL clubs to refuse to accept the ZIFA Assembly decision. Uriri, an advocate, has since been pardoned.
Despite Zimbabwe’s economic problems, fans still flocked to stadiums with clubs such as Dynamos and Highlanders recording attendances averaging 20,000 fans in their home matches while Caps United attendance averaged 12,000 to 15,000 fans. The Warriors in all their matches against Guinea, Swaziland, and Malawi attracted crowds of more than 30,000 people.
As the year draws to a close, football lovers reflect on the season gone by and rightly look to the future with optimism.