Sparks fly as rival giants face off
Last week, the legends requested a return to rip-roaring Soweto derby play and the youngsters delivered a sensational game yesterday Sharks deserved the victory as they plowed past Western Province in a game that simmered with intent but struggled to com
BUCKING THE TREND Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fans showed up and showed off in their best regalia for the 164th Soweto Derby at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg yesterday. The PSL clash was a tense affair, with Pirates edging Chiefs 2-1 at the final whistle
The talk leading up to yesterday’s Soweto derby was dominated by Orlando Pirates assistant coach Rulani Mokwena taking digs at the Kaizer Chiefs technical acumen – or lack thereof.
It was not surprising that Pirates head coach Milutin Sredojević lauded Mokwena as one of the behind-the-scenes influences that contributed to the win over Amakhosi in yesterday’s Absa Premiership encounter.
Although Sredojević maintained that his deputy’s remarks – that Chiefs have lacked technical leadership post Steve Komphela – were misdirected, even though the Serb lauded the young mentor for leading the analysis that proved spot-on on match day.
“Credit to Rulani. [His comments] can motivate the opponents, but they were misdirected and were not part of the game [yesterday],” Sredojević said.
“The mission has been accomplished, but we are not carried away.”
Sredojević acknowledged that his team started on the back foot in the opening 20 minutes of the game, where Siyabonga Mpontshane’s goalkeeping howler gifted Khama Billiat the easiest of goals 15 minutes into the game.
Amakhosi, however, failed to protect their lead and let the Buccaneers back in with jitters in a changed defence that had the central pairing of Siyabonga Ngezana and Mario Booysen.
Pirates had earlier missed a penalty after Justin Shonga’s spot kick was saved by Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, but Innocent Maela ensured that the Buccaneers were level just before the half-hour mark.
Vincent Pule netted in the 32nd minute in what proved to be the winner on his debut in the epic fixture.
“We need strong characters and must develop a winning mentality,” said Chiefs coach Giovanni Solinas after his first Soweto derby in charge ended in defeat.
“Playing for Chiefs is not easy because the expectation is very big. We have the potential because the league [race] is very balanced.”
Solinas also urged Amakhosi to be consistent as they are yet to replicate the form that saw them win three league games on the trot last month.
For a long time, the Soweto derbies have been almost predictable, but yesterday’s affair had a different dimension to it – even if it was driven by two individuals.
Pirates attacker Pule and his Chiefs counterpart Billiat no doubt endeared themselves to the Soweto folklore with the way they played without fear on debut in the derby.
In the process, the pair lived up to the pre-match hype as the ones who were punted to direct the epic encounter.
For their part – even though they were later replaced – it was justice served that Pule and Billiat were on the score sheet.
Also, it was the attack-minded approach from the two technical benches that allowed for free-flowing football on the day – and goals followed.
Truth be told, it could have been more than just the three goals on the day had it not been for the indecisiveness or lack of composure displayed by both teams.
Pirates’ main culprit was Shonga, as the striker again failed to transfer his goal-scoring form from the Zambian national team to the club. His day of misses included a missed penalty in the first half.
However, he redeemed himself as the provider of the cross that defender Maela headed home from a corner kick.
It was the kind of this fightback that impressed Sredojević the most.
“The players showed a strong mental strength. The missed [saved] penalty was an injection of motivation,” he said.
Changes from both sides were aplenty. Bucs coach Sredojević surprisingly relegated Jackson Mabokgwane to the bench and opted for Mpontshane in goal, just like when the big goalie made a shock return to the line-up in the 3-1 hammering of Chiefs in March.
Solinas also tweaked the team that eliminated Black Leopards from the Telkom Knockout last weekend by recalling all the big guns for the big match.
Khune came in for Virgil Vries in goal; Booysen replaced Mulomowandau Mathoho; Dumisani Zuma got the nod ahead of Hendrick Ekstein; while Billiat led the front line with Leonardo Castro, who has recovered from an ankle injury.
It might still be a bit early into the Absa Premiership marathon, but the fact that the two Soweto giants found themselves among the early pacesetters could well set the tone in a race where former champions Bidvest Wits have assumed control.
With their win yesterday, Pirates narrowed the gap at the top to one point adrift of Wits, who consolidated their lead with a 1-0 victory over Highlands Park on Friday.
Other premiership results:
Chippa United 0-1 Mamelodi Sundowns AmaZulu 0-3 Cape Town City Polokwane City 1-0 Maritzburg United
In a somewhat forgetful final that seemingly took its cue from the afterthought nature of this year’s Currie Cup competition, the Sharks avenged their defeat from the corresponding fixture last year by mugging Western Province at home for the domestic champions’ title.
The rugby may have been poor, but there was no denying that the Sharks were the deserved winners, thanks to a defence that restricted a Western Province team that had won all seven of its games before the final.
The result was that the trophy was wrested from the defending champions’ grasp as Sharks coach Robert du Preez won his first title at first-class level, his son Robert Junior taking successive cup victories after winning with Province last year.
The first half was one of those 40-minute periods one wishes they would be given back, so nervous were the two teams and so poor the rugby.
With both sides intent on playing the territory game, possession was frequently kicked away without necessarily being regained in the stifling heat at Newlands, Cape Town.
In a game that simmered with intent but never quite came to the boil, atrocious passing and handling also aided the stopstart nature of the game in the first half.
So difficult was it to build any kind of momentum that the first points in the match were an SP Marais penalty in the 20th minute.
While poor handling looked to have affected the Western Province backline – which was picked to run at the Sharks with Josh Stander at 10 and Damian Willemse outside him – it was costlier for the visitors as the Du Preez twins, Jean-Luc and Dan, lost control in the act of scoring either side of half-time.
For those who like some kind of pattern to go with their games, the hosts – thanks to Ali Vermaak putting a stop to Thomas “The Tank” du Toit – emerged as the stronger side in the scrums when the dust had settled in the many restarts.
But the visitors clearly had the upper hand in the line-out, where Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi frequently overshot the line with his throwing and found opposition hands at the tail. The main reason for that would have been the Sharks picking habitual lock forward Tyler Paul at openside flank as an extra line-out option. The immediate results of these set piece indiscretions were the substitution of both Du Toit and Mbonambi at half-time.
As much as the Sharks’ handling had robbed them of the chance to keep the hosts at arm’s length through tries scored, it was they who fashioned the most chances, with their defence keeping the much-vaunted but ultimately disjointed backline scoreless.
That’s why it made sense when Akker van der Merwe scored in the 44th minute, a try the origins of which were another kick ahead that wasn’t regained, with the Sharks recycling the ball for nine phases before the hooker wriggled over the try line.
And when Paul forced his way after yet another pick-and-go fest in the 71st minute, one couldn’t help but get the feeling it was over, despite the fact that it took the score to 17-9, with Province nailing a penalty not long after.
As it turned out, that’s all it took as the visitors’ defence continued to be impregnable as they ran the clock down.
MIDFIELD MANIA Kaizer Chiefs forward Leonardo Castro in action against Orlando Pirates midfielder Marshall Munetsi during yesterday’s Soweto derby at FNB Stadium
KEEP PUSHING Aphelele Fassi of the Sharks and Sergeal Petersen of Western Province get into the groove in the Currie Cup final match yesterday