Soccer Review with STEPHEN PHIRI
AFTER a month of rest, several teams will next week return to training to start preparations for the 2018 Super Division.
The 2017 season ended on December 2 with Zesco United being crowned champions.
The 2017 season was by far one of the toughest following the increase in the number of teams from 18 to 20.
As a result, there was no mid-season break when clubs relax, refresh and review their performance in the first round of the season and plan for the second round.
The scenario gave a new dimension to the battle for supremacy and fight for relegation.
Most clubs have hardly rested and are starting pre-season preparations next week.
The preparations, too, have their own dimension depending on the number of competitions the clubs will be engaged in.
For instance, Zesco, Zanaco, Nkana and Green Buffaloes are not only preparing for the Super Division but for continental duty as well.
Zesco and Zanaco will campaign in the CAF Champions League, while Nkana and Buffaloes will be flag carriers in the Confederation Cup.
The four teams know what is at stake and will prepare adequately to ensure they bring glory to the country at the end of the year.
Just like the rest of the other football followers, I expect a competitive 2018 Super Division season.
Fans were treated to a thrilling 2017 and they want to see more of that this year.
Zesco won the title on the last day and this is how it should be.
Days of being crowned champions with five rounds remaining should not be associated with Zambian football.
It is not a secret that the Super Division is among the best brands in Africa. Super Division matches are televised on SuperSport.
The other 19 teams should strengthen their squads so that they grab the title from Zesco.
I am sure Zesco are going on a shopping spree to ensure that they assemble a squad that will challenge for silverware on four fronts – Super Division, Barclays Cup, Charity Shield and CAF Champions League.
Zanaco, Nkana and Buffaloes will be strong this season, having finished on a high.
I also expect Lusaka Dynamos and Power Dynamos to challenge for the title after finishing fifth and sixth respectively last season.
Napsa Stars, Lumwana Radiants and Buildcon will strive to spoil the party for the big teams.
It will not be easy for New Monze Swallows, Kabwe Youth Academy, National Assembly and Kitwe United.
However, these four newcomers need to be at their best so that they prove that they are not merely ‘visiting’ the Super Division.
Kitwe and Assembly are not new to the big league as they have been in and out.
Assembly were demoted to the lower ranks in 2015 while Kitwe, popularly known as the Buchi boys, are returning to the Super Division after an 11-year absence.
I am sure Assembly coach Oswald Mutapa and his Kitwe counterpart Ernest Koffi are already strategising for the 2018 season.
Swallows and Kabwe Youth need to buy players that will be able to withstand pressure.
Anything less than that might see the two teams dropping to the first division at the end of the 2018 season.
The secret to surviving relegation is to collect maximum points at home and strive for draws on the road.
Swallows and Kabwe Youth players should embrace self-belief if they are to maintain their Super Division status.