Football fans will once again be glued to their television screens as one of the biggest matches on the African continent, the Soweto Derby, returns for its third instalment in the 2020/2021 season.
The two Soweto giants last butted heads during the semi-finals of the MTN8, where Pirates were victorious at a canter, leaving their rivals in a heap on the field after a 5-0 drubbing over two legs.
Now though, the lay of the land has transformed.
“Yes, we won the last two games in the MTN8 but it’s a different view now, it’s a league game and we are fighting for three points. We know they are the favourites. They finished second place last year and are in the Champions League. We know the power that the players and the coaches have if we don’t concentrate on this game,” said Pirates coach Josef Zinnbauer in the build-up to the fixture.
The Buccaneers have failed to transfer the momentum of winning their first trophy in six years to league form, dropping crucial points along the way. Zinnbauer’s side trail log-leaders Mamelodi Sundowns by a massive eight points halfway through the season.
More importantly, they only lead Gavin Hunt’s Amakhosi by four points on the log table, which is the same side that was languishing at the wrong half of the table not so long ago. However, a run of three wins, two draws and zero losses in their past five games has seen Chiefs climbing steadily up the table, and a win tomorrow will bring them to within a point of their arch-rivals.
Since his arrival in Naturena, Hunt has put faith in the young players. Players like Nkosingiphile Ngcobo and Happy Mashiane have taken the baton and sprinted with it. Going into the game, Hunt urged the youngsters to continue doing what they’ve been doing.
“For these young players who are coming in‚ they have been given a chance and now they have to hold onto those chances… It’s important that we play properly and improve with or without the ball, and that is our own game process,” said Hunt.
A positive for Hunt and his charges has been the return of their top goalscorer in last season’s botched title attempt, Samir Nurkovic. The Serbian missed some games in the beginning of the season, through injury as well as some off-field issues. Since his return to the team, he has added a different dimension.
What the game will be missing though is the influence of the 90,000 supporters who normally flock to the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on derby day.
“Playing in front of 90,000 spectators is a dream come true for every player. It has exceeded all my expectations. It is unfortunate that this derby will have no supporters at the same stadium, but I am sure they will be supporting us from home,” said Nurkovic speaking on his experience of the derby since arriving in South Africa last season.
“Playing without supporters is very different. They are always the 12th man and give us extra motivation. We really miss them at the stadium.”
With supporters still barred under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, home supporters will be watching from the safety of their couches, as the two giants once again charge at each other, for the 99th time in league matches.
On your marks
Another mouthwatering fixture will see title contenders SuperSport United and Swallows battle it out. The two sides are just three points behind Sundowns, with both having played a game less than the defending champions.
Whereas SuperSport have been in the mix of the title race in recent seasons, the newly promoted Swallows have been the surprise package of this campaign, and have continued to constantly punch above their weight.
SuperSport coach Kaitano Tembo downplayed the significance of the game as a decider in the league race.
“For me, it’s not one game that will necessarily determine whether we are going to win the league or not but it’s a game that might give us an opportunity to stay closer to teams like Sundowns, who have been wobbling in the past three games where they got three draws,” said Tembo.
Masandawana themselves will look to maintain their lead at the summit when they clash with Chippa United on Sunday. They will encounter a Chilli Boys side which is gunning for a top eight spot, and Chippa captain, Augustine Kwem told the media that they are positive going into the fixture.
“We saw how they played [in their last fixture] against Black Leopards and saw their weakness and we believe that we can exploit them. We believe that we can get points against Sundowns. They love to keep the ball, but we can match them in that aspect,” said Kwem.
Sundowns will be hoping not to drop any more points, having played to three draws prior to their last gasp victory over Leopards in the midweek. DM
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