Ricky Zililo and Sikhumbuzo Moyo Senior Sports Reporters—
HIGHLANDERS new coach Erol Akbay will be introduced to the club’s supporters tomorrow when his side competes in a four-team tournament dubbed the Bulawayo Football Festival. The festival which will feature Bosso, How Mine, Tsholotsho FC and newboys Bulawayo City will be played at Barbourfields Stadium.
It will be a rare treat for local football enthusiasts who will get an opportunity to watch the four Premier Soccer League teams playing on the same day at one venue. Besides playing host to the tournament, Barbourfields will this afternoon be home to another high-profile friendly match between Zimbabwean champions Chicken Inn and Harare City.
The Gamecocks and the Sunshine City Boys are respectively using today’s match as part of their second legs of the Caf Champions League and Caf Confederation Cup preliminary round preparations.
Chicken Inn’s Caf Champions League opponents are South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns whom they beat 1-0 at Barbourfields last week while Harare City will travel to Madagascar for a date with AS Adema next week. Harare City carry a 3-2 lead going into the second game. Football enthusiasts are in for a treat as both sets of players will be hoping to impress their coaches and probably make it into next weekend’s continental football trips.
However, it is the Bulawayo Football Festival which promises to be a crowd puller as the gate charges are the same as those of the Chicken Inn-Harare City match where the rest of the ground has been pegged at $2 with the wing stands tickets going for $3 while VIP charges are $5.
Of the four clubs competing in the Bulawayo Football Festival, only Bulawayo City have played at Barbourfields Stadium this year when they lost 0-2 to Harare City a fortnight ago. The teams will know their opponents after tomorrow morning’s draw.
The organisers said the first two matches will be 30 minutes aside while the third place playoff and the final will be 40 minutes per half. If a match ends in a stalemate, it will be decided through penalty shootouts.
Highlanders and How Mine have new head coaches in Akbay and Kelvin Kaindu respectively while Tsholotsho FC are still under the tutelage of Lizwe Sweswe. How combinations are coming out and the state of players’ physical fitness is what will matter more than the results for all coaches.
If Akbay’s words of using regular players are true, then the Bulawayo giants are likely to field a strong side that has goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda, defenders Erick Mudzingwa, Bruce Kangwa, Felix Chindungwe and either Peter Muduhwa or Tendai Ngulube.
Douglas Sibanda, Godfrey Makaruse, Rahman Kutsanzira, Simon Munawa and King Nadolo will provide the creative flair in the midfield for Bosso while Knox Mutizwa and Gabriel Nyoni will lead their attack.
Calling fans to come in their numbers, Bosso secretary-general Emmet Ndlovu said Akbay will be with his technical team. “To start with, I want to inform our fans that the coach, whose arrival was finally put to bed on Tuesday, will be leading the technical bench, barking instructions so supporters should come in their thousands,” said Ndlovu during a press conference.
Also present at the Bulawayo Football Festival presser was Highlanders treasurer Donald Ndebele, Bulawayo City chairman Jerry Sibanda and Mlamuli Phiri of Tsholotsho FC.
Sibanda who revealed that they have signed veteran midfielder Mthulisi Maphosa said his side was shaping up for the season and was ready for tomorrow’s tournament.
“No other team is more prepared than us. We’ve played two games already and we feel our team is shaping up. We know Bosso are our big brothers but we will say sorry after beating them,” said Sibanda. He added that they will field their strongest side as they continue to fine tune their squad ahead of the 2016 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League season.
Some of the experienced faces at Bulawayo City are goalkeepers Liberty Chirava and Ndodana Sibanda, defenders Brighton Dube, Pride Zireni, Zibusiso Sibanda and Brian Chikweya, midfielders Maphosa, Xolisani Moyo, Edmore Muzanenhamo and welcome Ndiweni.
They also have seasoned strikers in Mkhokheli Dube, Qinani Sibanda and Thomas Chimenya. Tsholotsho are likely to field Italian goalkeeper Giacomo Ratto who arrived in the country during the week.
The Zhwane Boys’ chairman Mlamuli Phiri said they could not field their trialists who include Brazillian striker Diego Martins and the Ghanaian quartet of Allen Arthur, Anwar Sadat Wahab, Jonathan Kwamena and Eugene Owusa Prempeh due to delayed paperwork.
However, Phiri is confident that they will do well at the tournament. “We’ve played Highlanders before and they beat us twice but this time around I’m sure they’ll feel us. We retained most of the players that did duty for us last season and I’m sure they will want to prove a point or two,” said Phiri.
Tsholotsho’s hopes will be pinned on the likes of midfielder Butholezwe Ncube, Ocient Ncube, Kriess Chitiyo and young Mncedisi Gumede while their skipper William Stima, Thando Ncube, MacClive Phiri and Nkosilathi Moyo will marshal the defence. Lynnoth Chikuhwa, Simbarashe Gorogodyo and Kudzi Machazane will lead Tsholotsho’s attack.
How Mine who fired 13 players who include clubless Gilbert Banda who has reportedly failed to impress Philani Ncube at Bulawayo City, Devon Chafa, Nyasha Mukumbi, Benjamin Marere and Nonjabulo Dube are expected to unveil their squad. The gold miners have been conducting their pre-season training behind closed doors at How Mine.