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A SEASON TO REMEMBER

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The long wait is over.

The suspense has been suspended. October 23 marks the start of a gruelling ten months of sustained drama, glut of goals, shoddy defending, silky skills, abhorrent refereeing and more as the MTN league 2021/2022 takes centre-stage. The teams remain 16; two new members in Vovovo FC and Rangers FC bring their own razzmatazz in a league which kept us on the edges of our seats last season as security forces Royal Leopard and Young Buffaloes battled sans guns. It was bruising, scintillating and dramatic in equal measure.

In the end, Edwin Matsebula and his brave battalions clinched the Holy Grail of Eswatini football, taking home a cool E1 million. The army side snatched the first round carrot of E350 000 in extra-ordinary circumstances on May 22 at the Prince of Wales sports ground after Mpendulo Dlamini’s 9th minute goal and Phiwa Dlamini’s 70th minute grand-ma tap-in secured a 2-0 win over Manzini Sea Birds.

As many records tumbled like a deck of cards, Phiwa ‘Slwabelwabe’ Dlamini set a new goal-scoring record of 23 goals; Leopard also set a record of 77 points out of a possible 90; one loss, 24 wins and a massive 62 goals scored. The new season promises to be another humdinger. Sports Editor, Lwazi Dlamini gives 10 reasons why the 2021/2022 season will be one to remember.

1. BATTLE OF THE SECURITY FORCES AGAIN

Given that already it is only the three security forces teams, Leopard, Buffaloes and Green Mamba who were first to register, there is no doubt all three will be gunning for the league title once again. They do not say an early bird catches the fattest worm for nothing.  Royal Leopard, the defending champions, are not resting on their laurels and their participation in the gruelling CAF Champions League only means they have a better head-start. Young Buffaloes participated in the CAF Confederation and though theirs was briefer-than-a-G-string, they have gained the necessary experience. Green Mamba, league champions in the 2018/19 season, will be hoping to do better this time after an underwhelming 2020/2021 season in which they finished fourth - a distant 27 points behind champions Leopard. It is stating the blindingly obvious that all three security forces, once again, will be gunning for the league title.

2. RETURN OF SOCCER FANS INTO STADIUMS

If all goes according to plan, the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) is hoping before the year ends, soccer fans even if its limited numbers will be going through the turnstiles in the various stadiums. No doubt, football stadiums have been missing the carnival atmosphere created by the blaring Vuvuzelas, the songs and colour brought by the 12th man on the terraces. In all honesty, without the fans, the stadiums feel as deserted as a cemetery. The return of soccer fans is what we are all hoping for.

3. HIGHLANDERS REGISTERED AS A COMPANY

Formed by a group of students at the Eswatini College of Technology (ECOT) in 1952, Mbabane Highlanders is the country’s most successful side with 13 league titles under their ‘horns’. News that one of the oldest teams in the country will eventually be registered as a company have been received with mixed feelings especially among the club’s traditionalists who are wondering how this whole process will be carried out. South African businessman Ally Kgomongwe was given a five-year contract to run the club but feels this not worth the paper it is written on. He wants to be fully recognised in a company structured set up. It’s a very interesting turn of events at the country’s football aristocrats. 

 4. THE RE-BIRTH OF MANZINI WANDERERS

‘Liweseli Nine-nine’ screamed our headline in yesterday’s lead story indicating how the hub giants have lined up nine new players for the new season. After the challenges of unpaid salaries, cancelled training sessions and players engaging in strike action, the hub giants seem to be settled now after the club’s South African director Cedric Mathata eventually showed up in our shores. This could signal the re-birth of the country’s most fervently supported side.

5. ‘SIKHALI’ GOING FOR THE TOP GOAL SCORER’S GONG

After his 19-goal haul saw him come just four behind eventually golden boot winner, Phiwa Dlamini of Young Buffaloes, Sabelo ‘Sikhali’ Ndzinisa will be eager to reclaim the award he last won in the 2017/2018 season. Armed with goal-poacher instincts that can shame a leopard that has not had a meal for a day, the Sihlangu marksman contributed almost half of Highlanders’ 41 league goals last season. He was three-goals shy of relegated Mhlume Peacemakers goal tally of 22. Such was his influence in Highlanders performance, he is set to lead from the front again in particular with reigning league top goal-scorer, Phiwa Dlamini ruled out with an ankle injury at least until January. He will be the man to watch again this season.

6. LEOPARD’s SIFISO ‘JUNIOR’ MAGAGULA TO REPEAT HIS STERLING PERFORMANCE

It is still one of the wonders of the world why and how this talented former Moneni Pirates midfield dynamo missed out on the ‘Player of the Season’ award after sterling performances week in and week out for the police side. Shocker of shockers, not even a ‘Player of the Month’ award! He should not be deterred because his talent is not in doubt. Expect the industrious midfielder to continue with his enterprising play; eye-in-the-needle defence freezing passes, wondrous goals and dozens of assists, as the police side look to defend their crown. Form is temporary, class is permanent.  

7. VOVOVO FC WILL BE ‘LIWESELI’ CURRY-FLAVOURED

Officials and players from the maroon and white side of Manzini are reportedly migrating to the blue and white part of Motshane in droves. Nothing official though but the rumour-mill has been on overdrive regarding some former officials and players from Wanderers joining the premier league returnees. It will be interesting to see how Vovovo FC will eventually shape up when the season starts.  

8. RANGERS FC, FIRST SHISELWENI SIDE IN PREMIER LEAGUE AFTER TWO DECADES

Since Gege Happy Stars in the 1999-2000 season, the Shiselweni Region has not had a team campaigning in the elite league. Rangers FC’s promotion to the premier league has been historic in its own right. One hopes they do not repeat the unwanted record set by Gege Happy Stars, who were not only an unhappy bunch but finished the entire first round without a point.  

9. MILLING UNDER THE YOUNGEST CLUB BOSS

At the age of 27 years, Sabelo Mavimbela is the youngest club boss in the premier league. Replacing, Irvin Munroe, the second born son of former Moneni Pirates director December Mavimbela finds himself at the driving seat of the country’s inaugural league winners in 1971. A former player for Red Lions, Sundowns Under-20 squad, Mavimbela takes his baby steps in club administration and it will be interesting to see how he fares in this unenviable task where many have failed dismally.

10. A NEW MTN LEAGUE SPONSORSHIP PACKAGE

The league sponsors, MTN Eswatini and Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) celebrated 20 years of ‘marriage’ last season and are now working on renewing their vows with a new three-year partnership. This means, the new season will see a new league package, which hopefully will bring smiles in the demoralising COVID-19 pandemic era. 

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