Mar­itzburg reach for their cup dream

Post - - Post Sport - KAM­LESH GOSAI

FOUR games into the sea­son, Mar­itzburg United find them­selves one match away from achiev­ing one of their man­dates of the cam­paign, an ap­pear­ance in a cup fi­nal.

Vic­tory or a goal­less draw against Su­per­Sport United in the sec­ond leg of the MTN8 semi-fi­nal at the Harry Gwala Sta­dium in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg on Satur­day night will take the home side into their first cup fi­nal.

The Mid­lands out­fit al­ready made club his­tory by reach­ing this stage of the sea­son-open­ing knock­out com­pe­ti­tion. It’s only the sec­ond time Mar­itzburg have fea­tured in the top eight com­pe­ti­tion.

The last time they fell out at the first hur­dle. This time they sur­prised African cham­pi­ons Mamelodi Sun­downs 1-0 away in the opener, and fol­lowed up with a 1-1 draw against Su­per­Sport in Pre­to­ria in the semi­fi­nal first leg al­most a fort­night ago.

In be­tween coach Fadlu Davids steered the team to two league wins with­out con­ced­ing a goal, which makes this their bright­est start to a PSL cam­paign.

At the launch of the sea­son Mar­itzburg chair­man Fa­rook Kado­dia said they wanted to achieve a top five fin­ish in the league and make one cup fi­nal ap­pear­ance.

“We have been in the Ned­bank Cup and Telkom Knock­out semi-fi­nals (los­ing to Or­lando Pi­rates on both oc­ca­sions), but this is a dif­fer­ent tour­na­ment with a win­ner-takes-all for­mat,” said Kado­dia.

Two sea­sons ago, the team nick­named the Team of Choice al­most got rel­e­gated. So this cup run is some­thing they will rel­ish, es­pe­cially as they of­ten bat­tle against the league’s big guns, who boast deeper pock­ets cour­tesy of ti­tle spon­sor­ships.

The club re­cently se­cured a three-year spon­sor­ship from the Msun­duzi Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, worth R9 mil­lion a year, but are still in the red.

The win­ner-takes-all for­mat of the MTN8 means the cham­pion will bank R8 mil­lion. That would be a mas­sive financial in­jec­tion for a club of Mar­itzburg’s stature.

The Mid­lands out­fit are guar­an­teed R800 000 as an ap­pear­ance fee even if they fall out at any stage.

“We came through a long strug­gle from the Fed­er­a­tion League days when Mar­itzburg was formed, and it’s a ma­jor chal­lenge to keep the ban­ner fly­ing. We are grate­ful to still have com­mu­nity support.

“The part­ner­ship with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity has helped to sta­bilise the club, but we need a ti­tle spon­sor to grow the brand and add de­vel­op­ment struc­tures,” said the chair­man.

With a re­fresh­ing ap­proach from new coach Davids – this is his de­but sea­son full-time – Kado­dia is ex­cited about the fu­ture on and off the field.

“We are num­ber five in the PSL in terms of brand aware­ness. We made a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment to im­prove our value con­tent.

“The brand­ing and view­er­ship took a ma­jor jump last sea­son. The man­date two years ago was to play at­trac­tive foot­ball, although we were fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion.

“We swung it with the way we were play­ing and the ac­qui­si­tion of young play­ers who are be­com­ing house­hold names.

“We have fresh, ex­cit­ing play­ers and the youngest tech­ni­cal team with Fadlu and his brother, Mahier. The coach has brought a new cul­ture and a brand of play­ing which ev­ery­one is en­joy­ing.

“While there’s ju­bi­la­tion at get­ting the away goal, we still have to work on September 9 to take us into the fi­nal. But the ball is in our hands,” said Kado­dia.

Davids, 36, the holder of a UEFA B li­cence, was given the re­spon­si­bil­ity of coach­ing the unit after two sea­sons of spells as care­taker coach.

He has spent much of his ca­reer as a player and as­sis­tant coach with the Team of Choice, hav­ing made an im­pact with Man­ning Rangers fol­low­ing a pe­riod in the Bul­gar­ian league.

Davids will rely on Zim­bab­wean for­ward Evans Rusike to lead the vi­brant front line. Rusike has three goals in league and cup ac­tion, and ap­pears to be back to form after a quiet cam­paign last term.

The other rising star is Le­bo­hang Maboe, a winger-striker who slot­ted the equaliser in the first leg.

De­fen­sively, former Bafana Bafana in­ter­na­tional Siyanda Xulu has been mak­ing the most of his game time after two years of vir­tual anonymity at Kaizer Chiefs.

With home ground ad­van­tage, and buoyed by the away goal, Mar­itzburg should fancy their chances of reach­ing their maiden cup fi­nal.

To pro­mote this fix­ture, those who buy a replica team jer­sey from the club of­fice at 397 Vic­to­ria Road in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg will get a free ticket for the match.

Bafana Bafana de­fender Siyanda Xulu was among a host of promis­ing new sign­ings an­nounced by Mar­itzburg United re­cently.

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