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SIHLANGU GOOD FOR LEOPARD, ‘BUFFS’ – ‘SLY’

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MBABANE – Two weeks without the MTN Premier League will certainly affect the momentum and rhythm for most clubs.

However, the consequences of the break will not be the same for each of the 16 elite teams, as those with more called up players in the senior national team, Sihlangu stand to benefit. From an analytical point, the teams with no call-ups and those with one or two will be most affected as the break means they would be having no competition. Sihlangu play its African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 Qualifiers group stage opening two matches on June 3 and June 7 against Togo away and Burkina Faso at home. It is a break that teams do not concur with, but have no choice but to adhere to the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE), which also gets command from the Eswatini Football Association (EFA), as the mother body of local football. At least those who were interviewed, with some calling the publication, to express their discontentment about the break which they felt was unfair for them financially and otherwise.

dominating

This is more so because the league was at its peak both at the top and bottom, with just three matches to go. The break only seems to give advantage to the clubs dominating squad, and that is none other than MTN Premier League leaders and defending champions Royal Leopard and Young Buffaloes, who have seven players apiece in the squad. History proves that the two sides dominate even the Starting XI both at club and national level, which would augur well for them in the competitive international stage. Leopard have 62 points, Highlanders are on 60, and Swallows have 58, while Buffaloes complete the top four with 57 points.  Such international games and dominance in the national team have already proven good for Leopard in the league race, as they were vicious in the first round race of the E200 000 incentive as they beat opposition easily after their TOTALEnergies CAF Confederation Cup 2021/22 failed group stage campaign to win it.

questioned

Highlanders’ South African coach Selaotse ‘Sly’ Mosala was questioned about the numbers in the national team,s whereby his team has four players to the seven his MTN Premier League title-chasing rivals’ seven apiece. Another rival to the title is third-placed Mbabane Swallows and they have two players in Sihlangu. Other teams with players in the national squad are Manzini Sea Birds and Manzini Wanderers as well as Green Mamba, each having one player. Sly said it was good for both Leopard and Buffaloes to have more players in the national team. He said it was a norm worldwide that a certain team would have more players in the national team than other clubs. Barcelona used to dominate the Spain national team during their dominant times in La Liga.

“Obviously, it’s like that all over the world, whereby one team would have more players in the national team, that has nothing to do with the title challenge, Yes, it is good for Leopard and Buffaloes but it can also be good for us and Swallows as well, as we have players left behind to train so we match their standard,” Sly said. He said in his view, the decision by the PLE to stop the league now would affect all the teams, as it meant they had to keep training hard during the break to stay fit like those in Sihlangu. “We’re all going to be on the same boat because we have players that are left behind, who we need to prepare, it’s all about how we keep them going and fit,” he said.

resumes

The former Sekhukhune United and Free State Stars assistant gaffer also said as teams, they should have friendly matches before the league resumes to keep in shape. “The difficult part here is that the league would finish towards the end of June, tempering with the preparations for next season,” he said. He further said the break would compromise the time the players would spend relaxing but then again said it could work to the advantage, because the players would still be fit when they resume pre-season training. His Leopard counterpart said despite having big numbers in the national team, he had not anticipated the break at this stage of the league. “This break will greatly affect us as you know that every break has a negative impact on every team. I thought that the PLE would allow us to finish the league first,” Matsebula said.

He also said since the PLE had taken the decision, there was nothing that they could do as a team, but take it as it was. Swallows’ Marketing and Communications Officer, Mancoba Mabuza, said they always prepared themselves for such breaks. “We always prepare our programme in such a way that we accommodate the breaks so that they do not affect us negatively,” Mabuza said. Buffaloes’ goalkeeper and Captain, Nhlanhla Gwebu, also felt the break would have a negative impact in the teams as they were gelling and in good form.
“Taking a break at this stage will affect us a lot, as we were gelling and we were at the peak of our form. This will not affect us only but all the teams in the league,” Gwebu said as he shared that while they had numbers in the squad, as a club their rhythm was affected.

He said once the break was over, they would need to start afresh in terms of fitness and form, but still took the time to wish the national team the best of luck. Manzini Wanderers’ Public Relations Officer (PRO) and Acting Management Committee (MC) Chairman Mlungisi Ndzinisa decried the league break, saying the international break was only resuming at the end of May so that they could have wrapped up the league with weekend games after tomorrow and next week Wednesday or Thursday. His Highlanders counterpart Mandla Madonsela reiterated Ndzinisa’s words about the break, but admitted that they had no choice but to work on a programme that would help them stay match fit. The break comes after the national team Coach Dominic Kunene announced a 26-member squad as listed above.

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