It was a clearly Gilbert Banda show. A fairly attended Challenge Match between Highlanders FC of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and South Africa’s ABSA League Free State giants, Bloemfontein Celtics started as a very lazy and slow affair. Zimbabwe’s Bosso seem to settle first, naturally, as they are in mid season, while the rusty Siwelele and pre-season preparations of Celtic could have been a reason for their cold-start. Mudzingwa and Beke Ndlovu tried their best without much luck.
To be fair, on the first half balance of play, Highlanders had tons of possesion, playing mostly square across field with minimum penetration. They did not have to fight hard to win the ball or keep possesion. Play was predominantly on the left channel of play, with a few telling crosses from the right. Midway through the half, a thunderous long range drive brought jubilation to the thousands of the Zimbabweans thronging the Ellis Park Stadium, also known as the Coca-Cola Park.
The strike was of world class quality, punishing the retreating Celtic defence. Highlanders had made a few runs on the left flank before then though there were no serious goal attempts. The goal turned the match a notch up with double glit-edged opportunities being fluffed by Bosso. The goalkeeper had to be at his best, though he could not help watch a scorcher defelct off his left back into the net for the second goal. Celtic tried to fight their way back into the game with sustained attacks from the left forcing a series of corners.
The second half saw Bloemfontein introduce a few players who changed the complexion of the game with greater pace and better passing. Their efforts were rewarded with a soft goal before a Green goal levelled the scores. The goalkeeper seemed to have a low close ball under his control when he went down to save a weak attempt. For the first time in the match, play was balanced though the South Africans had renewed fighting spirit and belief, wiining all midfield duels and playing slick passes going forward. Captain Gilbert Banda who is on trials with Platinum Stars was the star of the show, thwarting as many threats as the bombardment of the Bosso defence became relentless.
A header from a cross on the right in the last 15 minutes seemed to have sealed the deal for Highlanders, but the lapse in concentration saw the lead last only a minute to leave the scores at 3-3. The late introduction of Kangwa did not yield any dividents. The match was decided by penalties, of which Highlanders squandered 2 in succession to surrender R150 000,00 cheque to the richer opponents.