Telkom Knock­out Fi­nal

"WE HAVE TIO HAVE TO SHOW THE BIG CLUBS THAT WE ARE EQUAL TO THEM."

Kick Off - - Inside - BY ZOLA DODA

We speak to the cup-win­ning history-mak­ers at Baroka FC, who be­came the first club from Lim­popo to win a top-flight tro­phy as they now set their sights on even greater heights.

It took­took three con­sec­u­tive at­tempts for lowly Baroka FC to even­tu­ally gain pro­mo­tion to South Africa’s Na­tional First Di­vi­sion, and an­other three years be­fore fi­nally mak­ing their way up to the Absa Premier­ship. But even then, they were the laugh­ing stock of South African foot­ball as they lan­guished in the rel­e­ga­tion zone, only sav­ing their top-flight sta­tus via the play-offs af­ter a 15th-place league fin­ish just two years ago. Yet now Bak­gaga ba Mphahlele be­lieve they are ready to con­quer PSL foot­ball af­ter claim­ing Telkom Knock­out vic­tory, the first top-tier tro­phy in their history.

Just 11 years af­ter they were es­tab­lished, Baroka FC made history af­ter win­ning De­cem­ber’s Telkom Knock­out fi­nal, be­com­ing the first club from Lim­popo to win a PSL tro­phy. Against all odds, Bak­gaga ba Mphahlele kept clean sheets in their first three matches in the tour­na­ment, shut­ting out Golden Ar­rows, Mamelodi Sun­downs and de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Bid­vest Wits be­fore beat­ing Orlando Pi­rates 3-2 in a penalty shootout fol­low­ing a 2-2 draw af­ter ex­tra time. “We need to get rid of this mind­set that there are big teams in South African soc­cer – they are big in mar­ket­ing and sup­port base, but play­ing wise, not so much,” says ju­bi­lant Baroka CEO Mor­gan Mam­mila. “This vic­tory came at the right time for us and beat­ing Sun­downs and Wits gave us the boost we needed. We need to aim high. We have to have to show the big clubs that we are equal to them. For us, this is a dream come true. We have a chair­man [Khur­ishi Mphahlele] and coach [ Wed­son Nyirenda] who dream big – col­lec­tively we have a bright fu­ture.” Club cap­tain Mduduzi Mdantsane led by ex­am­ple in the fi­nal, con­vert­ing two penal­ties – one in open play and the first one in the penalty shootout – and feels their cup suc­cess will be a ma­jor step­ping stone for the club go­ing for­ward. “This Telkom Knock­out vic­tory is go­ing to change the per­cep­tion of how peo­ple view this club,” the skip­per says. “Be­fore the tour­na­ment started, no one be­lieved we could win the cup. The first win against Golden Ar­rows was our turn­ing point – be­fore that win we were not col­lect­ing points in the league and we were be­gin­ning to doubt our­selves. But af­ter that first game, that’s when we re­alised we could do it. We started be­liev­ing in each other and from there we never looked back. Our con­fi­dence was so high, and play­ing against all these great teams was mo­ti­va­tion in it­self.” History shows that clubs such as Plat­inum Stars and Moroka Swal­lows have won tro­phies at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, only to then suf­fer a ma­jor slump in form in the league, a fate de­fender Thabiso Se­menya hopes his side will avoid. “The minute you put down the cup af­ter lift­ing it, you are no longer a cham­pion,” Se­menya says. “The most im­por­tant thing is our per­for­mance in the league be­cause if we get rel­e­gated to the NFD, we will not be able to de­fend this cup. We have to fo­cus on the league. It’s all about chan­nel­ing the fo­cus from one tour­na­ment to an­other. We will be ex­pect­ing a lot of pres­sure from teams be­cause when you achieve suc­cess you in­vite pres­sure, and other teams will now have a go at us be­cause they want to beat us. Win­ning the cup brings pres­sure, and it’s up to us how we han­dle that pres­sure.”

‘A team of mir­a­cles’

Be­fore their Telkom glory, Baroka had been fondly known as the “giant-killers” af­ter knocking Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swal­lows out of the 2011 Ned­bank Cup be­fore los­ing to Black Leop­ards in the semi-fi­nals. The Lim­popo out­fit was formed in 2007 when two Third Di­vi­sion clubs – Sim­ple Yel­lows and, iron­i­cally, Giant Killers – merged to form Baroka FC, with their im­pres­sive 2011 Ned­bank Cup run be­ing achieved while the team was still turn­ing out in the third tier of South African foot­ball. Fol­low­ing their Ned­bank Cup hero­ics seven years ago, KICK OFF paid the club a visit at their train­ing base in Ng­wana Mo­hube in Le­bowak­gomo. Upon our ar­rival, what we found was an am­bi­tious out­fit with play­ers from all over the coun­try, and un­like most Sec­ond Di­vi­sion sides, Baroka had their own club­house where most of the play­ers stayed and were fully kit­ted for all their train­ing ses­sions. Af­ter win­ning the league in the 2010/11 sea­son, the club coached by a then 29-year-old Sello Chokoe failed to win pro­mo­tion to the Na­tional First Di­vi­sion af­ter fall­ing short in the play-offs. They would again win the league the fol­low­ing sea­son, but again stum­bled at the last hur­dle in the play-offs, be­fore fi­nally mak­ing it third-time lucky in the 2012/13 cam­paign as they even­tu­ally made it to South Africa’s sec­ond-tier. A fourth-place fin­ish in their maiden NFD cam­paign was fol­lowed by a ninth-place fin­ish the fol­low­ing year, be­fore an im­pres­sive 2015/16 sea­son, un­der the tute­lage of Kgoloko Thobe­jane, saw Bak­gaga lose just four games all sea­son as they topped the First Di­vi­sion stand­ings – just one point ahead of Highlands Park – to even­tu­ally se­cure an Absa Premier­ship berth for the first time. “It’s not easy com­ing through from the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion to the NFD and then the PSL, and then win­ning a cup in your third sea­son in the PSL – that is not easy,” Mam­mila says. “Some teams have been in the NFD for many years and still find it dif­fi­cult to come up to the PSL. You have to love this game. You must also take care of the busi­ness side of things, and the rest will fol­low. To be hon­est with you, if we can out­play big­ger teams and beat the PSL cham­pi­ons, then it means we are cham­pi­ons. “We are not brag­ging, but we are a team of mir­a­cles. We are the only team that has

brought a cup to Lim­popo. We are a spe­cial team and peo­ple can say what they want, but we are up for the chal­lenge. You haven’t seen any­thing yet. Our aim is to com­pete for all the re­main­ing tro­phies. We are a new team and we have a spon­sor – some teams have never had that.”

En­ter Nyirenda

Stick­ing with Thobe­jane dur­ing their maiden cam­paign in the top-flight, Baroka only sur­vived via the play-offs af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond-from-bot­tom, with their pop­u­lar coach be­ing re­placed three months be­fore the end of last sea­son as McDon­ald Makhubedu took over, with Doc­tor Khu­malo

"THE MINUTE YOU PUT DOWN THE CUP AF­TER LIFT­ING IT, YOU ARE NO LONGER A CHAM­PION."

also over­see­ing the fi­nal two games of the sea­son, as Baroka fin­ished one po­si­tion bet­ter in 14th spot. Be­fore the be­gin­ning of the cur­rent cam­paign, for­mer Zam­bian na­tional team coach Nyirenda was ap­pointed as the per­ma­nent coach, with the move prov­ing to be a mas­ter-stroke. “I ex­pected to achieve suc­cess as soon as I took over as the coach of this team,” Niyrenda says. “You can ask the play­ers and they will tell you what I said – I told them we were go­ing to win the Telkom Knock­out or the Ned­bank Cup. “At the end it was an emo­tional and hum­bling win. I was happy to see how the play­ers played right through the tour­na­ment. There are one or two things that were not go­ing well at the be­gin­ning of the game against Pi­rates, but in the end we won.” Repli­cat­ing that suc­cess in the league will be no easy task, yet Nyirenda is con­fi­dent his side’s good cup form will spill over into the Absa Premier­ship. “All the teams in the PSL are strong and for us to be where we are now, we have to play very strong teams from Orlando Pi­rates to Mamelodi Sun­downs and Bid­vest Wits … but yes, we can do it. Here we are, hav­ing won the TKO. We are now look­ing for­ward to other com­pe­ti­tions. Our tar­get is to fin­ish the sea­son in the top four and from next sea­son, we can con­quer the PSL.” In-de­mand winger Tal­ent Chawapiwa says Baroka’s new coach has brought new im­pe­tus into their side, which he be­lieves will help the club to greater heights. “Our new coach brings a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion to our game – he is the kind of coach who wants the ball to move with full speed,” Chawapiwa says. “He is all about ball pos­ses­sion and he wants to starve the op­po­nents of the ball. “There are peo­ple say­ing we might end up fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion, but I am not con­cerned. This sea­son we have more qual­ity and hunger, and play­ers want to achieve. Our coach achieved a lot as a player and now he wants to win as a coach. The story of us fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion is some­thing of the past. Our goal be­tween now and the end of the sea­son is to be in the top eight – that is the least we want to achieve.”

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