Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs welcome international break with crucial points in race for second
With the Fifa breather in full effect, the local teams in desperate pursuit of second place in the DStv Premiership have a chance to recharge and replenish ahead of the final push to the finish line.
Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates each cut down the gap between themselves and second-placed SuperSport United to just two points, after earning maximum points in their respective league matches.
They might have preferred to use this momentum to build on their positive results over the weekend. Nevertheless, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates will be grateful to have recorded three points each to pull themselves closer to second-placed SuperSport United. This was before a brief break to accommodate international fixtures.
Pirates did themselves and their Soweto neighbours a favour by beating SuperSport 1-0 in Orlando on Saturday evening. A couple of hours later Chiefs capitalised on that act of kindness by scraping a 3-2 win against Maritzburg United in KwaZulu-Natal.
Pirates and Chiefs occupy third and fourth respectively on the DStv Premiership log table. Most importantly though, their respective victories saw the teams both cut down the gap to Gavin Hunt’s men to just two points in the tightly contested race for second spot.
With seven games left to play in the season, and the coveted second place (which comes with Caf Champions League qualification) up for grabs, SuperSport sit on 39 points. The Buccaneers and Amakhosi have moved to 37 points apiece following their individual successes.
Grinding it out
As expected, the game between two sides jousting for the important second spot, and continental competition as a consequence, the affair at Orlando was a nervy and close-run one. So much so, that it resembled a hard-fought arm-wrestling match, as opposed to a free-flowing soccer fixture.
Each team had chances to open the scoring, which neither took for the longest time. That is until the Sea Robbers were afforded an opportunity to break the deadlock with 11 minutes remaining on the clock.
Bafana Bafana forward Monnapule Saleng was brought down inside the box, prompting the referee to point to the spot. Defender Tapelo Xoki was the man entrusted with the responsibility of dispatching the spot kick.
The former AmaZulu centre back made no mistake as he sent Matsatsantsa’s Ricardo Goss the wrong way to grab his first Pirates goal and seal an important victory towards his team’s ambitions for the remainder of the season.
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“We are really happy with the level that we showed today. Probably not our best game in terms of [taking our] chances. But the team that we had in front of us is not a joke,” Pirates coach José Riveiro told journalists after his side’s slender, but massive win.
“The game was similar to a final. But because they still have the advantage, it wasn’t really [a final]. They are still ahead of us and they won’t give away anything for free. It’s going to be a difficult fight until the end… These are a crucial three points. […] The confidence and belief is going to be good.”
Riveiro’s opposite number at SuperSport, Hunt, cut a frustrated and despondent figure after the match. He did not have much to offer in the way of words, possibly disappointed by the team’s profligacy and the punishment of a spot kick when it seemed the match was heading for a draw.
“We lost. So, we’re disappointed. Very disappointed,” Hunt said. “We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. We played well.”
The Tshwane side have the international break to dust off and return in a better mood to protect their two-point advantage in the remaining games.
Sigh of relief
The Buccaneers’ arch nemesis, Chiefs, will head into the international match in much better mental shape than Hunt’s men – whom they are also in hot pursuit of.
During their clash against Maritzburg, Amakhosi raced into a 2-0 lead within the first 10 minutes. However, the frailties that have haunted Arthur Zwane’s men in recent seasons resurfaced and the hosts drew level with the visitors before the halftime whistle.
After jousting for most of the second half, Chiefs were also beneficiaries of a match-defining penalty. Midfielder Yusuf Maart made no mistake as he tucked in what would eventually be the winning goal.
“Though we could have done better and obviously we have room for improvement … we will keep on grinding the results, keep on working hard until we get it right,” Zwane said after the contest.
With the Fifa break in full effect, each of the three horses in desperate pursuit of second place has an opportunity to recharge and replenish in preparation for the final onslaught at the finish line, now just two months away. DM