Trophy-starved Kaizer Chiefs chase first-leg MTN8 advantage against perfect Mamelodi Sundowns
The MTN8 offers Kaizer Chiefs an opportunity to end their lengthy trophyless run, which is now in its eighth year. However, Molefi Ntseki’s men face an uphill battle against ruthless Mamelodi Sundowns in the semifinals.
Kaizer Chiefs’ trophy drought is snailing towards a decade. Far too long for a commercial powerhouse like the Soweto giants.
With Mamelodi Sundowns traversing the marathon that is the DStv Premiership with the grace and poise of an Olympic long-distance runner, it is unlikely that Amakhosi will end their barren run by winning the league this season.
Nonetheless, the unpredictable nature of knockout soccer presents Chiefs with yet another relatively realistic chance of claiming their first piece of major silverware since a league and MTN8 double that came in 2015.
The Soweto side has an opportunity to take a major step towards this when they face Sundowns in the first leg of their MTN8 semifinal at the FNB Stadium on Saturday, 2 September.
The likes of Ernst Middendorp, Steve Komphela, Gavin Hunt and Arthur Zwane have all attempted to break the drought in the past eight years. To no avail.
Even when Stuart Baxter – the last coach to deliver hardware to Naturena – returned for a second stint between 2021 and 2022, things did not come together for the faltering giants of South African soccer.
Former Bafana Bafana mentor Molefi Ntseki has since been tasked with bringing back the glory days to one of the best-supported clubs on the continent.
This is even though Ntseki lacks any notable experience coaching at senior club level, let alone coaching a team whose supporters are as demanding and impatient as those of Amakhosi.
A mixed start to the tenure of the man who has previously coached the country’s junior national teams has seen him suffer the wrath of the Chiefs’ ravenous and sometimes rowdy fanbase.
A 1-0 defeat at the hands of TS Galaxy, which was the Soweto side’s second loss from the six games they have played so far this season, saw the Amakhosi faithful hurl projectiles at Ntseki, who had to be escorted off the pitch by police.
The unruly behaviour was a clear message that another trophyless campaign would not be tolerated by fed-up fans.
Amakhosi were subsequently fined R100,000 by the Premier Soccer League for the misconduct of their followers, though 30% of that sum was suspended on condition they do not repeat the same offence in the next two years.
Despite all he’s already gone through during his couple of months in charge, mixed with the fact that he and his charges are facing the rolling juggernaut that is Sundowns, the 54-year-old is confident they can emerge with a positive result from the two-legged semifinal encounter.
“The first leg is going to be a very tough one. But if you look back at how we have been performing, the team is ready,” Ntseki said after the side secured a morale-boosting 2-0 victory over Stellenbosch in Cape Town on Wednesday evening.
“We have to emphasise our strengths. Unfortunately, we don’t have many recovery days. We fly back to Johannesburg [from Cape Town] and only have one training session before playing Sundowns,” the coach continued.
“But that is how things are. What’s important for us is to be mentally very strong and give the players confidence. Because this is one game where we have to do well,” Ntseki said.
Heavy the head that wears the crown
Despite his team being favourites to navigate to a second MTN8 final in three years, Sundowns’ detail-obsessed coach, Rulani Mokwena, is aware that the match will be far from easy.
“We have a target on our backs… everybody wants to beat us. It’s very difficult being us. But heavy is the head that wears a crown,” Mokwena said.
This is because Masandawana have become the benchmark when it comes to South African soccer. As such, earning a rare win over the ruthless and efficient Tshwane giants tastes almost as sweet as silverware for many of the team’s competitors.
Mokwena’s men were victorious in the MTN8 in 2022 – a success which marked the first and only time they have won it in its current guise. The fact that it was part of a historic domestic treble for the Tshwane side made it even sweeter.
Despite Mokwena’s caution, the Brazilians head into the match in perfect form. From the seven matches they have played this season, Sundowns have won them all – one of which was a 2-1 win over Chiefs in the Premiership at the beginning of August.
The second semifinal will see defending MTN8 champions Orlando Pirates do battle against the tenacious Stellenbosch on Sunday at 3pm at Cape Town’s Athlone Stadium.
The Buccaneers endured a trophy drought akin to Chiefs’ current one between 2014 and 2020. Eventually, the Sea Robbers broke this dry run with success in the MTN8 three years ago.
They’ve since developed a taste for the competition, as seen by their success last season.
In Stellies, they face a side that has a penchant for slaying giants, just as they did to reach this stage of the competition after defeating 2020 MTN8 victors, SuperSport United, 1-0.
Pirates will have no room for complacency, even though they landed on the so-called friendlier side of the draw. DM
MTN8 first leg semifinal fixtures:
Kaizer Chiefs vs Mamelodi Sundowns – Saturday, 2 September (3pm)
Stellenbosch vs Orlando Pirates – Sunday, 3 September (3pm)