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MANZINI – Another sad day in Eswatini football.

Fans continue to turn stadiums into war zones. This after causing another commotion during a feisty MTN Premier League clash between Young Buffaloes and Mbabane Highlanders at Mavuso Sports Centre yesterday. Referees had to be escorted to the exit on the far end of the stadium, while Buffaloes fans’ bus was pelted with all sorts of missiles, after a section of the irate visiting fans vented their anger on them following a disallowed goal deep into stoppage time. On-duty police officers, especially those from the Operational Support Services Unit (OSSU), were stretched to the limit, as some fans tried to get closer to the match officials. The bone of contention was Highlanders’ enterprising midfielder Philani Mkhonto’s header deep into stoppage time, which was flagged for offside by first assistant referee Banele Thwala.  

It proved to be a tight call, as Mkhonto scored from a rebound, with indications suggesting that substitute Tony ‘Ben 10’ Machacha made the initial attempt from a marginal offside position. At the end, it was again a mystery that would have been solved by the presence of a video assistant referee (VAR), which remains a distant dream for Eswatini. From  the moment the goal was disallowed a minute before referee Thulani Sibandze blew his final whistle, it became clear that there would be chaos at the end of the match, as the fans started bulldozing their way towards the technical area. When the game ended, referees remained motionless inside the field, with police on guard before they were escorted to an unusual exit on the far end of the stadium, where a police van waited to take them to safety.

It did not end there as there was more pushing and shoving behind the stadium, with some Highlanders fans wrestling to get closer to the Buffaloes bus. The police had to wrestle with the crowd for over five minutes, with the bus eventually making its way while soaked in beers on top of being pelted with all sorts of missiles. At the end, the dust eventually settled but it was a sad reminder of recent incidents at the same venue, where Highlanders fans caused an uproar after baying for referee Mbongeni Shongwe’s blood, when Sea Birds’ Sandumuzi Zwane scored a goal that was guided in by a hand. Mbabane Swallows also had a drama of their own, challenging a disallowed goal in the derby 1-2 loss to Highlanders on December 18, last year.


Back to the game, it had failed to live up to its billing, and the result meant the recently crowned MTN Premier League first round champions, Buffaloes, surrendered the top spot, to  Green Mamba, who beat Nsingizini Hotspurs by 3-1 in Siteki yesterday.  Green Mamba are a point ahead on 31 points. Buffaloes noticeably had a roaring crowd and it was established that the animated fans were those who were undergoing training to be soldiers at Mbuluzi. For fourth-placed Highlanders, who are on 25 points, it was a missed opportunity for them to move closer to the top but at the end, there was no goal in this fixture again. The side had met 15 days ago and also fired blanks. At the end, there is no winner between these two teams this term, for the first time since the 2018/19 season. Highlanders let slip a chance to put their noses in front inside 10 minutes into the game after a quick counter-attack. Banele ‘Stiga’ Ndzimandze wiped a delightful cross into the box but the gifted Mkhonto lacked the needed precision to steer the header in.


Both sides had opted for experience upfront, with Phiwayinkhosi ‘Silwabelwabe’ Dlamini leading the Buffaloes attack. For Highlanders, Musa Dlamini was the target man. However, both forwards were submerged. With less than four shots on target between the two sides during the opening half, it was no surprise that the sides were level-pegging during the interval.
On resumption, Buffaloes continued to pile more pressure, forcing the opposition to commit more than half a dozen fouls. Goalkeeper Khanyakezwe Shabalala was also repeatedly called to action to rescue his side. However, the Highlanders shot-stopper spent the better part of the second half on the turf receiving treatment than standing between the sticks. Then five minutes into added time, came the controversial moment when Highlanders beat a flat-footed Buffaloes to storm the box. Musa had provided a cross which was connected by ‘Ben 10’ who rattled the woodwork before Mkhonto headed in the disallowed goal. It was the last throw of the dice, as the teams could not be separated.

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