Ray Bande and Fungayi Munyoro
ALL is set for the 2018 ZIFA Eastern Region Division One which roars into life on next week when 16 teams confirming their participation and keenness to battle for top honours.
For Mutare, the league kicks off with derby pitting Tenax and Buffaloes.
Baffaloes, Tenax, Masvingo United, Manica Diamond and Green Fuels (last two) bankrolled by cash-rich mining and ethanol producing companies, are also among the favourites to land the coveted prize.
Regional secretary Wisdom Simba said eight matches are lined up for April 21and 22.
“Our league roars into life next weekend and we are very excited about this development. It is indeed a promising season. We have new teams that are joining us for the very first time and some returnees. It is going to be a season to watch based on the teams we have. From the looks of things, teams are ready and have been working very hard.
“I think the competition will be stiff compared to last season. A great season of football is upon us. Fans must come out in their numbers and support their favourite teams,” he said.
The former Buffaloes defender-turned-football-administrator said payment of affiliation fees and registration fees for players by clubs improved in recent weeks.
“The response by teams in terms of affiliation fees has drastically improved. If you look at the number of affiliated clubs at this time last season was just eight and this season there is an increase of 50 percent,” he said.
The region welcomed back Masvingo United and Gazza Gunners.
Masvingo United are returning after serving their one-year ban for taking football matters to the ordinary courts. Yuna-Yuna, as Masvingo United are fondly known, were suspended in 2015 and in 2017 played in the unfashionable Second division.
Gaza also folded in 2015 citing financial constraints.
Three new Rookies, namely Green Fuels, 011 Stars from Gutu and Manica Diamond were welcomed from Division Two to make up the 16-team league.
Other teams that will take part in the league include Tenax, Buffaloes, Masvingo Pirates, Surrey, Prime Rangers, Mwenezana, Melfort, Gutu, Bikita and Renco.
Black Eagles was demoted to division two while Mukanya Bullets were expelled after failing to pay a fine of $500 after they failed to fulfill a crucial fixture against Mutare City Rovers.
United Lions was relegated was latter recalled to be the 16th team.
Buffaloes FC, who played second fiddle to eventual winners Mutare City Rovers last season, have declared their intention is to get it right this term.
They are, however, going to face competition from seasoned campaigners Tenax FC.
The army side will continue to use Vengere Stadium as it home ground.
However, local fans have demanded that the team camps at 32 Infantry Batallion permanently, or else they will dump them for Mutare City Rovers which is using the same venue for its home matches.
Tenax FC gave a very good account of itself last season, finishing among the top four teams.
Buffaloes FC will host Tenax FC at Vengere in a potentially thrilling encounter.
Manica Diamond is away to Masvingo Pirates in a tricky assignment.
Surrey will host newcomers 011 Stars in Gutu while Prime Rangers will be at home against Masimba Dinyero’s coached Green Fuels. United Lions will play against Melfort while Gutu will play Bikita Minerals in a Masvingo derby.
Renco Mine will play the league’s returnees Gazza Gunners.
Simba also implored match officials to desist from biased match officiating which has negatively affected the league over the years.
“We also expect the level of officiating to improve. We received good news from the referee’s committee vice chairperson that they will constantly monitor their referees on weekly basis, a position which in my view will improve the standard of officiating,” said Simba.