BY FORTUNE MBELE
Highlanders says winning the Chibuku Super Cup final will be a big motivation for the young squad, with most of them appearing in a major cup final for the first time.
The Bulawayo giants face off with Ngezi Platinum Stars in the biggest domestic cup final on Saturday, and Highlanders will start the match as huge favourites, playing the match in front of home supporters at Barbourfields.
Winners of the match walk away with $225 000 and the runners-up get $150 000 prize money.
But more importantly, the winners will represent the country in the Caf Confederations Cup next year.
Saturday’s match will see Highlanders featuring in a major cup final in four years, having last played in the NetOne-sponsored Easycall Cup in 2015.
Club chief executive officer Nhlanhla Dube yesterday said the match against Ngezi Platinum Stars is potentially a stimulus for the young players’ growth.
“We are glad that the players have continued to mature with many of them experiencing a knock-out final for the first time in their football careers,” Dube said. “Most of our players are young and this should be an impetus for their continued growth and the general setting of the culture of winning. We look forward to a carnival atmosphere and urge our fans to come in their numbers to enjoy themselves and celebrate their status of being the highest number of stadium-going football fans in the country.”
Veteran goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda, Nqobizitha Masuku and Godfrey Makaruse are the only players left in the squad that played a cup final: A 1-0 win over Chicken Inn to lift the Easycall Cup.
Sibanda was on the bench when Highlanders beat How Mine 3-0 to lift the Mbada Diamonds Cup two years earlier. Both the two cup finals were played at Barbourfields.
Dube said participating in the cup final was a culmination of a project that they started two years ago when they appointed Madinda Ndlovu as coach on a three-year contract.
Ndlovu, who is a club legend quit his post at the end of June, but he is credited with laying the foundation of the team’s current successes.
New coach Hendrikus Pieter de Jongh has been reaping the fruits as Highlanders currently enjoy their best form in years.
“In 2018 the objective was to construct a competitive side using coaches that had a Highlanders background and we brought in Madinda Ndlovu. We wanted to create players who would play with zeal and patience. In the second phase which is this year we said we should achieve a position not lower than four on the log standings and that we should at least qualify for one trophy final and that has just happened,” Dube said.
He added: “It is a feeling of walking faithfully on the template set for the club in 2018 going forward. Obviously, as the executive, becoming successful is measured by what you set out to achieve. We are not in the final by accident, but by strategic focus and on faithful adherence to plans whose imperative is to make the club a competitive unit again.
We desired to get here and we are here. The fans deserve it and our sponsors (NetOne) have been faithful and they are part of the growth so far.”
To qualify for the finals, Highlanders accounted for Dynamos, FC Platinum and ZPC Kariba. Striker Prince Dube has been a revelation in the competition, scoring at every stage of the tournament this year.