CUP CLASH IS ONE TO SAVOUR

Can Benni McCarthy turn one over against his old coach Gavin Hunt?

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REINERS

Cape Town

SO many ques­tions to be an­swered as Cape Town City pre­pare to meet Bid­vest Wits in a MTN8 semi-fi­nal, sec­ond leg tie in Jo­han­nes­burg to­mor­row (kick-off 3pm).

Can City make it to a first-ever cup fi­nal a mere 15 months since its in­cep­tion as a PSL club? Will Wits coach Gavin Hunt fi­nally man­age to win a game against his pro­tégé and coun­ter­part, City coach Benni McCarthy?

It’s shap­ing up to be an in­trigu­ing con­test, in­deed. Wits have the names, City have a team. The Clever Boys have Steven Pien­aar, Day­lon Claasen, James Keene, Amr Ga­mal, Gabad­inho Mhango and Gran­wald Scott, the Cit­i­zens have a won­der­ful team ethic. The Jo­han­nes­burg side bring into the en­counter a rich pedi­gree and its sta­tus as league cham­pi­ons, City have only their team spirit to rely on. But that is the Capeto­ni­ans’ strength. In­di­vid­ual glory counts for noth­ing, every­thing is geared to­wards the suc­cess of the whole.

So, as the clock ticks down to this much-an­tic­i­pated sec­ond leg clash, let’s iso­late a few as­pects that could be cru­cial to de­cid­ing the even­tual win­ner:

Benni McCarthy is Cape Town’s favourite foot­ball son. Be­cause of his ex­ploits as a player, from when he first hit the scene with Seven Stars as a teenager, to his tri­umphant time in Europe with clubs like Ajax Am­s­ter­dam, FC Porto and Celta Vigo, the 39-year-old has built up a cult fol­low­ing in the Mother City. He’s the kid who’s lived the dream, he’s the man who proved any­thing is pos­si­ble, what­ever the cir­cum­stances. Now, in his first spell as a head coach, he’s prov­ing to be just as ef­fec­tive. Four games, four wins, it couldn’t have gone bet­ter. Cen­tral de­fender Robyn Jo­han- nes has big shoes to fill in as­sum­ing the lead­er­ship of this City squad, but he’s well equipped to do the job. Last sea­son, the side’s suc­cess was built on the dy­namic per­for­mances of skip­per Le­bo­gang Manyama, who has since moved on to join Konyas­por in Turkey. Jo­hannes has been in mag­nif­i­cent form since re­turn­ing to the Mother City. Hav­ing left the Cape as a teenager to pur­sue a ca­reer in pro­fes­sional foot­ball, and hav­ing played at Mamelodi Sun­downs and Or­lando Pi­rates, the 30-year-old de­fender is dis­cov­er­ing there’s no place like home. The re­spon­si­bil­ity of the arm­band won’t change his ap­proach, he’ll be as com­mit­ted, as ded­i­cated, to the team as be­fore.

Hav­ing beaten Wits in two pre­vi­ous out­ings al­ready this sea­son, City won’t be look­ing to do any­thing dif­fer­ent. They have been very ef­fec­tive in keep­ing things tight and compact, and not al­low­ing Wits to play through their lines. In ad­di­tion, they’re a re­silient bunch, they don’t know when they are beaten, and they bat­tle to the fi­nal whis­tle. It’s this never-say-die at­ti­tude that has been at the root of their wins over Wits this sea­son. McCarthy, when he took over as head coach, made it no se­cret he wanted the team to be more of­fen­sive and that he wanted his team to have more pos­ses­sion of the ball. But changes in style take a while and, at this stage of McCarthy’s ten­ure, it’s still a work in progress. As the sea­son con­tin­ues, so the new coach’s phi­los­o­phy will sink in. But, for now, and es­pe­cially for Sun­day, it will be busi­ness as usual: to beat City, Wits will have to try and break down their de­fen­sive fab­ric.

Hunt is one of the PSL’s most suc­cess­ful coaches, hav­ing won the league ti­tle on four oc­ca­sions (three with Su­perS­port United and last sea­son with Wits). He’s a metic­u­lous plan­ner, a long-term thinker and has a su­perb eye for tal­ent. When the club de­cided to stop be­ing a de­vel­op­ment club and start fo­cus­ing on win­ning tro­phies, the man they turned to was Hunt. The Capeto­nian, a for­mer right-back at Hel­lenic, was ap­pointed with the sole pur­pose of chang­ing the face of Wits. In four years at the Clever Boys, he has cer­tainly achieved his man­date. Wits are a team to be re­spected and feared; they are no longer also-rans, they are win­ners. Now, after play­ing sec­ond fid­dle to his pro­tégé McCarthy, Hunt is de­ter­mined to get his team to play to po­ten­tial.

The man known as “Tyson” is one of the most ad­mired foot­ballers in the coun­try. Not only does Hlatshwayo lead this im­pres­sive Wits squad, he also cap­tains Bafana Bafana, which should re­veal just how lofty a sta­tus he car­ries in lo­cal foot­ball. Hav­ing come to promi­nence at Ajax Cape Town, he blos­somed at Wits, and now the ex­em­plary, tough-as-teak de­fender is look­ing to lead his team to yet an­other tro­phy. For Hlatshwayo, this tie against City comes at just the right time. He will still be feel­ing the neg­a­tive ef­fects from Bafana’s deeply dis­ap­point­ing re­sults against Cape Verde in the 2018 World Cup qual­i­fiers over the past few days – and, no doubt, he needs some­thing pos­i­tive to fo­cus on.

Still smart­ing from the two de­feats to City, and 1-0 down from the first leg, Wits have no choice but to go for broke – and they cer­tainly have the at­tack­ing qual­ity to launch an all-out on­slaught. In the two pre­vi­ous games against the Capeto­ni­ans, the Clever Boys hogged pos­ses­sion and dom­i­nated ter­ri­tory, but squan­dered too many scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Two things need to hap­pen if Hunt’s men are to emerge vic­to­ri­ous: firstly, Wits will need to bring more of a cre­ative, cut­ting edge to their at­tack­ing play if they are to find a way through City; and, se­condly, the for­wards will have to bring their scor­ing boots along.

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