Final round: everything to play for
The Absa Premiership has delivered yet another action-packed season, filled with interesting twists and turns along the way, writes Timothy Molobi
And so it comes down to Saturday. On the final day of the 2015/16 Absa Premiership season there is a relegation battle to be won, a CAF Confederation Cup berth up for grabs and a top goal scorer to contend with. After almost 10 months of thrilling football, the league season will culminate this Saturday on what is expected to be a drama-filled final day.
While the title race has already been settled, with Mamelodi Sundowns confirmed as champions, it is at the other end of the table that drama is expected. CAF Confederation spot With the two CAF Champions League slots already taken by champions Sundowns and runners-up Bidvest Wits, the race is for one spot in the Confederation Cup. The other spot will be taken by the winners of the Nedbank Cup.
Three sides – Platinum Stars, Kaizer Chiefs and Mpumalanga Black Aces – go into the last round still with a chance of taking the remaining spot. But the latter two might feel hard done by as third-placed Stars will play a fatigued Sundowns on Saturday.
Sundowns will only arrive on Friday morning from their second-leg tie against Medeama in Takadi, Ghana, on Wednesday.
Sundowns chief executive Sizwe Nzimande said they had asked for their game against Stars to be postponed as it was only 48 hours after their CAF game. However, the league rejected their plea.
“Takadi is about three hours’ drive by bus from Accra. Imagine, our players will have to travel by bus and fly overnight without any proper sleep and still play on Saturday. This is not an ideal situation for us and other clubs too as they still have something to play for. We don’t want to be accused of playing a weakened team against Stars but it is what it is. We are trying Kenya Airways because there was an issue with seats on SAA but at any rate we will only land on Friday morning,” said Nzimande.
Sundowns will be handed the trophy and medals after Saturday’s game and Nzimande said they wanted to make it a memorable day for their supporters. Top eight battle Four more clubs are playing for a place in next season’s MTN8 tournament. Sixth-placed Chippa United need only a point against Chiefs to cement their place.
But any of Orlando Pirates and Golden Arrows could miss out if they fail to win their games. In fact, ninthplaced SuperSport United would have to beat Pirates in order to unseat them from the seventh spot when the two sides meet at Orlando Stadium.
United are just one point behind Pirates and Arrows, who visit relegation-threatened University of Pretoria.
Stuart Baxter’s mandate when he joined SuperSport was to qualify for the top-eight competition and he knows only a victory will guarantee that. Relegation dog fight The question is: Are we headed for more twists and turns in the race to avoid the drop to the National First Division on the final day? The relegation battle is going Kaizer Chiefs vs Chippa United (FNB Stadium) University of Pretoria vs Golden Arrows (Tuks Stadium) Orlando Pirates vs SuperSport United (Orlando Stadium) Mamelodi Sundowns vs Platinum Stars (Lucas Moripe Stadium) Ajax Cape Town vs Bidvest Wits (Cape Town Stadium) Jomo Cosmos vs Maritzburg United (Olen Park) Bloemfontein Celtic vs Polokwane City (Dr Molemela Stadium) Mpumalanga Black Aces vs Free State Stars (Mbombela Stadium) Champions – R10 million + CAF Champions League Runners-up – R5 million + CAF Champions League 3rd – R3 million + CAF Confederation Cup 4th – R2 million 5th – R1.5 million 6th – R1.3 million 7th – R1.1 million 8th – R1 million 9th – R750 000 10th – R700 000 11th – R650 000 12th – R600 000 13th – R550 000 14th – R500 000 15th – R450 000 (national play-offs) 16th – R400 000 (relegated) to the wire as it is a win or bust for all three of the contenders.
The race for automatic drop is between University of Pretoria, Maritzburg United and Jomo Cosmos.
It will be winner takes all when Cosmos host Maritzburg at Olen Park. A victory for either side will guarantee them a place in the league next season. In fact, a point would do for Cosmos.
Bottom-of-the-log AmaTuks are at home to Arrows, who are fighting for a spot in the top eight. Golden Boot Collins Mbesuma’s 14-goal tally is at risk going into the last round as Prince Nxumalo is just a goal adrift.
Polokwane City’s Thobani Mncwango is on 12 and should also fancy his chances of overtaking the burly Zambian and claim the top-scorer award.
Khama Billiat and Jeremy Brockie, who are on 11 goals, would need to score a hat-trick each to catch Mbesuma and hope the Aces striker does not score against Free State Stars.
TOUGH TIMES Jomo Sono will have to beat Maritzburg in the last game of the season