CUP CLASH IS ONE TO SAVOUR
Can Benni McCarthy turn one over against his old coach Gavin Hunt?
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.