SOCCER SIZZLER, 50th edition

The 50th-anniversary Soweto Derby promises to be the most exciting in recent memory

The 50th-anniversary Soweto Derby promises to be the most exciting in recent memory
In South Africa, with its massive social inequality, a premium DStv package with access to 19 sports channels comes at a prohibitive R934 per month. (Photo: EPA / Jon Hrusa)

Having beaten Orlando Pirates in the reverse fixture of the Soweto Derby, Kaizer Chiefs will be hoping to complete a double on Saturday over their resurgent rivals.

The Soweto Derby, which sits right up there with some of the fiercest rivalries in world football, is once again upon us. And this time there are more sub-plots than usual, with both teams in contention for the Absa Premiership title.

The game between old foes Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates has over the years become a marquee event on the South African sporting calendar, dividing households and putting friendships on hold for the duration of games.

The game that will be played on Saturday 29 February will be extra-special as it’ll mark the 50th anniversary of this iconic spectacle.

Amakhosi and the Buccaneers first met in an official game on 24 January 1970 in the play-off for third place in the Rogue Beer Cup, shortly after Chiefs were formed on 7 January in that same year.

Chiefs were first to draw blood over the more experienced and established Pirates in the first league meetings between the sides in 1971. Amakhosi did the double, winning 4-3 and 2-1 in the old National Professional Soccer League, NPSL.

Joseph “Banks” Setlhodi was one of the players who made up that victorious Chiefs team, playing in goal. Speaking to the legendary shot-stopper had this to say:

“A derby is one of those things every soccer lover puts in their annual calendar. Everyone looks forward to that match because a Soweto Derby is more important than any other game.”

Since the days of Setlhodi and company, the two sides have faced each other 168 times, with 47 of those battles coming under the banner of the official Premier Soccer League era.

Chiefs have come out victorious in 12 matches while Pirates have won 11, with 24 derbies ending in a draw.

Football fans will be hoping that there is no draw at FNB Stadium. Instead, they will have their fingers crossed for a repeat of the five-goal buffet that the two dished up in November 2019, in which Chiefs ran out 3-2 victors. Equally, and more importantly, each set of supporters will be desperate for their team to be on the right side of the result.

Other than bragging rights, the fixture could have a major bearing on the title chase.

The pair come into the match placed first (Chiefs) and third (Pirates), with six points separating them, although Pirates have played an extra game. The team sandwiched between them, second-placed Mamelodi Sundowns, has made it clear who they are backing on Saturday.

“Obviously if you want the league to be exciting, you don’t wish them (Kaizer Chiefs) to win on Saturday,” said Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane at a recent press conference.

Sundowns are on continental duty this weekend, taking on Al Ahly in the first leg of their Caf Champions League quarter-final. Should Pirates win, and Masandawana subsequently win their game in hand, the gap between them and Chiefs will be just a single point.

Coming into the game, a Chiefs side that threatened to blow the competition away in the early stages of the league has slowed down significantly.

In their last five league games, Chiefs have won three, drawn one and lost one. A far cry from the form that saw them pick eight wins in 10 games at the beginning of the season.

To demonstrate how significant their recent decline has been, at some point the gap between them and the Buccaneers was 17 points.

Of course, the reduction has as much to do with Chiefs’ inconsistency as it does with the man that took over Pirates in December 2019, after their horrendous start to the season – German mentor, Josef Zinnbauer.

Pirates are undefeated under the German in league football and have won five games on the trot. They evidently have a spring in their step.

“It goes down to the coach who has developed this unit thinking that we have to defend from the front with 11 players. That has been the mentality shift regardless of who is playing, the players have a clear instruction with regard to their tasks,” said Pirates assistant coach Fadlu Davids at the pre-derby press conference.

In spite of the mixed fortunes that have faced the sides in recent times, on the day it’ll be about who wants it more and who is more disciplined. Previous derbies have shown that in this fixture form means nothing.

The main game will kick off at 3:30pm, with FNB Stadium’s gates opening at 11am. Tickets are sold out. DM


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