Crunch time for Zim players based in SA. Gritty midfielder Willard Katsande is still dreaming big and wants to become the first Zimbabwean international to be the captain who leads Kaizer Chiefs to the championship title when their season ends on September 5.
With Zimbabwe’s top-flight in continued limbo and ZIFA not offering any real direction on its start, the focus has naturally shifted to the ABSA Premiership in South Africa where a host of the country’s internationals face a defining week at their different teams. The Soweto giants are looking to grace the podium and end a five-year trophy drought.
But with Chiefs struggling for form and Katsande’s compatriot and talisman Khama Billiat enduring a nightmarish year and having easily his worst season since moving to the ABSA Premiership, Amakhosi have seen their grip on the title race whittled down from 10 points to just a superior goal difference.
Katsande and his troops saw their title aspirations take a huge dent last Thursday when defending champions and nearest rivals Mamelodi Sundowns handed them a 1-0 defeat at Orlando Stadium.
Both teams have now drawn level on 52 points, but Chiefs have a healthy goal difference of +21 ahead of Sundowns’ +16. Worryingly for Chiefs and their multitude of fans, who unfortunately are unable to rally them on as matches are being played in empty stadiums, is the fact that they have only won once since football resumed in South Africa following the easing of the lockdown.
A defiant Katsande, however, told The Sunday Mail Sport that they are still confident they can cling on to top position until the season’s final day. Chiefs are in for another tough test against former champions Bidvest Wits at their favourite hunting ground — the FNB Stadium — this afternoon before two more games against Chippa and Baroka complete a season they dominated before the Covid-19 induced hiatus.
The day’s fixtures begin with a massive survival battle for big goalkeeper George Chigova, Charlton Mashumba and Walter Musona whose basement side Polokwane date Bloemfontein Celtic and will end with a clash between Sundowns and Elvis Chipezeze’s Baroka at Dobsonville.
Katsande said although there has been an air of unpredictability in the bio bubble, he believes Chiefs have the character to withstand the late Sundowns surge for the championship.
“It (the defeat by Sundowns) was the result we didn’t want, but we are still in control. We have to dust up and focus on the next game because we don’t have time to sit and mourn.
“It’s about the future which is the next game. The Wits game we have to go out there and apply ourselves, no pressure, composed and do the business because we need to win at the end of the day.
“All we need now is to get maximum points until the last day. We won’t focus on what others are doing but on ourselves and that is the most important thing,’’ he said.
Katsande, who captained the Warriors to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Gabon, insisted that being at the bottom did not suggest that the likes of Polokwane City and Talent Chawapiwa’s AmaZulu were already doomed.
“The bubble is interesting, you can’t underestimate any opposition . . . those teams are strong and fit and they are fighting for the lives,’’ said Katsande.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane seemed to share the same sentiments with Katsande when he suggested that despite his team’s triumph over Chiefs, it is the Johannesburg Glamour club who still have the edge.
Mosimane, seeking a third straight championship success with Sundowns, noted that his side, who have struggled for consistency, face a potential banana skin in their title run in. Sundowns finish their league season against three relegation-threatened Limpopo sides in the form of Baroka FC (today), Polokwane City (Wednesday) and then Black Leopards (on September 5).
“If you see where those teams are on the log, you don’t want to play them. If you want to know about Polokwane, you should watch the game against Kaizer Chiefs. Our programme is tough.
“And by the way, we’re not top of the log, they (Chiefs) are still there. So these guys have points and they’ve got the goals, so now we have to work against the goals, which is very difficult. You know it’s still in their hands, it’s not in our hands,’’ Mosimane told SuperSport.
Although his side have been oscillating between bottom place and the play-off slot, Chigova said Polokwane City were determined to fight to the end. The big goalkeeper has regained the confidence of coach Clinton Larsen after a couple of games on the bench.
But Chigova is under no illusions about the tight spot his team find themselves in. He, however, noted that their clash against Celtic could determine whether there is light at the end of the tunnel for them.
Chigova revealed that together with the duo of Musona and Mashumba, they had been regularly discussing ways of helping their Limpopo side stay afloat in the Premiership.
“On Sunday we are playing Celtic then Sundowns on Wednesday. We know what we have to do so on Sunday against Celtic, we have to collect three points and put ourselves in a good position to fight relegation.
“Of course pressure is always there and for us players we know what is at stake and we will give it our all in the remaining three games.
“As for the three of us (Mashumba, Musona and him), we always encourage each other to do well and help the teams always,’’ Chigova said.
Despite anchoring the 16-team log table, Polokwane City with 24 points are just a point behind Chipezeze’s 14th placed Baroka and 11th placed Golden Arrows who have the Zimbabwean trio of Knox Mutizwa, Devine Lunga and Danny Phiri helping their cause.
Polokwane must however, win all their games against Celtic, Sundowns and Wits to be absolutely certain of their survival chances.