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‘LASUKA LAHLALA!’

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My dearest readers ...

By the time you read this, hopefully, the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) and MTN Eswatini would have dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s in the new three-year sponsorship agreement. This will pave way for the much-expected start of the biggest soccer competition in the country – the MTN league 2021/2022. It is the only competition we would have again this season, by the look of things. A sad state of affairs. Nonetheless, the long wait is over. The suspense has been suspended. We are all now set for another gruelling ten months of sustained drama, shoddy defending, sometimes abhorrent refereeing, shocking results and glut of goals.  

compressed

Last season’s compressed league programme wherein teams played three games in seven days was energy-sapping, mind-numbing and intriguing in equal measure even to the best of teams. Some games were more sleep-inducing than sleeping tablets; some games kept us on the edges of our seats; we witnessed some wondrous goals and at times abhorrent refereeing which bordered on insanity. In the end, Royal Leopard were crowned champions for their consistency, unity and determination.

The police side were brilliant, the numbers confirm this. 24 wins out of 30; five draws, one loss, 67 goals scored, 17 conceded and a record-breaking 77 points.
Leopard’s creative wit, their game management, the intelligence of their play, their desire is what set them apart from the rest. After the crunching 3-2 aggregate loss to Angola’s Sagrada Esperanca last Saturday in the CAF Champions League, coach Edwin Matsebula vowed that his charges would continue with their dominance on the domestic front.

Nothing can get the ball rolling for the police side than against their nemesis, Mbabane Swallows. Granted, Swallows are softer-than-a-marshmallow, and could find it hard to cope with Leopard’s speed, invention and devastating finishing, but this is an A-category match which should set the tone for the new season. Swallows lost both games to Leopard last season. The first round clash on April 11 didn’t even play at King Sobhuza II Memorial Stadium – Swallows forgot their registration cards.

Points

The police side collected the three points on a silver platter. The second round clash on July 25 at Ka-Langa Technical Centre ended with Leopard winning 2-0 courtesy of Zweli ‘Mlilo’ Nxumalo’s 61st minute strike and Sifiso ‘Junior’ Magagula’s stoppage time cool-as-cucumber finish.  It is still possible to imagine this game as an old-fashioned battle. Leopard on the ascendancy and Swallows as underdogs who could raise their game on the day. It could still be a game where the formbook counts for nothing and where expectations are confounded.

That illusion is quickly dispelled by the numbers Swallows could only achieve last season. Numbers never lie. 24 wins out of 30; six draws, three defeats, 54 goals scored, 19 conceded and 69 points collected. Not bad but not good enough to win the league championship when the standards were so high. Swallows did look panicky, desperate and under-coached last season. In short, they are no longer playing the Swallows way. Therein lies the rub. On Saturday, coach Christopher Ennin has an opportunity to remind everyone of what he is capable of or the jury will be out on whether he has the capacity to lead a team of Swallows’ prestige.

epic

Then of course, you have the Young Buffaloes versus Mbabane Highlanders epic clash set for the King Sobhuza II Memorial Stadium on Saturday. These are two sides who took three points of each other last season. Highlanders won the first leg 2-0 on April 28 at King Sobhuza II Memorial Stadium when Kenneth Moloto netted the opener in the hour-mark and Sabelo ‘Sikhali’ Ndzinisa scored the second goal seven minutes from time. Buffaloes won the second leg tie 1-0 courtesy of Sandile Gamedze’s 82nd minute strike on July 22.

Basically the two teams cancelled each other and it would be interesting to see how they will fare this time given all that has happened in the last two months. New boys, Rangers FC will make their debut against Moneni Pirates on Saturday in the opening fixture of the season while Vovovo FC will mark their return to the elite league with a clash against Malanti Chiefs.

There has been very little to read on the teams’ signings as most are likely to tie up new deals as the week progresses, but we are all licking our lips in anticipation of what promises to be another gruelling ten months of sustained drama, glut of goals and scintillating performances in the race for the Holy Grail of local football. As the sponsor, MTN Eswatini’s league catch-phrase goes; LASUKA LAHLALA!

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