A strange phenomenon occurred during the last round of the Telkom Knockout when seven of the eight matches ended in favour of the visiting teams, with SuperSport United the sole home team that managed to secure victory.
As the tournament enters its second round with mouth-watering clashes scheduled across the country this weekend, the question is whether lightning will strike twice in the same place, with SuperSport once again enjoying home-ground advantage over high-riding Orlando Pirates at Loftus Stadium tomorrow.
“I noticed that,” admitted Jose Ferreira, SuperSport United’s commercial director. “I think home-ground advantage still exists, but it’s become less and less of a factor in the South African football set-up, particularly within the premiership.
“The fact is that in South Africa we lack facilities and consequently find ourselves playing home matches in Durban one week, Lucas Moripe the next and it could be Loftus the next or Rand Stadium, even Milpark. Players get used to playing anywhere.”
As he looked at this weekend’s matches, Ferreira said he wouldn’t attach too much significance to home-ground advantage because the past 16 Telkom results were more of a coincidence than anything.
“Home grounds are no longer what they used to be,” he said. “Thirty years ago Orlando Stadium was a fortress and a slaughter house for some of the country’s top teams. But last week Mpumalanga Black Aces achieved the kind of result against Pirates that would never have been possible back then.”
But Mamelodi Sundowns’ flamboyant marketing director, Alex Shakoane, said for the country’s big guns, like the “Brazilians”, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, there is no such thing as home advantage, as they are capable of attracting enough support wherever they play.
So, Shakoane believes Sundowns will not be short of support when they travel down to Pietermaritzburg to line up against Maritzburg United on Sunday, despite the fact that the “team of choice” seems to be hitting the right notes lately after dispatching Bloemfontein Celtic right in their Seisa Ramabodu cauldron.
The same principle applies to Pirates who, perhaps due to their form lately and the fact that they have finally won a cup competition, are capable of drawing a crowd larger than the home side anywhere they play. I suspect it will be the same when they invade Loftus.
Pick of the weekend
The SuperSport United match against Pirates is undoubtedly the pick of the weekend fixtures, with manager Gavin Hunt biting his nails in an attempt to figure out how he will be able to plug the gaps that seem to be appearing in his defence against a Pirates strike force laced with speedy and deadly forwards.
United are far from the side that won the league championship a record three successive years—and last week’s loss to Kaizer Chiefs at home exposed their frailty in defence. This has led to Hunt inviting three defenders from outside the borders in the hope of spotting someone who can close the gaps that have suddenly appeared in the rear guard.
And, with the imminent departure of Bongani Khumalo to Tottenham Hotspur during the open window period in the next couple of weeks, they need to find a suitable replacement quickly, otherwise his departure could herald “open sesame” as far as defence is concerned.
Pirates are walking on air these days and it doesn’t matter which line-up manager Rudi Krol sends out to the battlefield on any given day. Even with their talisman, Teko Modise, struggling to regain his mojo, they have become the team of the moment, dishing out a delightful attacking style of football in the process.
The tension of facing the red-hot Pirates could be telling on United. Reports this week are that two of their players exchanged blows during a training session and had to be separated by their colleagues. Their coach responded that if they could show the same kind of aggression against Pirates tomorrow, he would be happy.
Steve Komphela performed his own version of the “Waka-Waka” when Free State Stars upstaged Ajax Cape Town in a late, late show at Athlone and will be hoping for similar commitment from his troops when Mike Mokoena’s team hits the road again to face Kaizer Chiefs at the Rand Stadium tomorrow.
Coach Vladimir Vermezovic’s previously frosty relationship has thawed a little and he even joined his players in celebrating their victory over SuperSport last week, but he is acutely aware that they face a team that has nothing to lose and can be as destructive as a loose cannon.
The sooner he finds a solution to the over reliance on striker Knowledge Musona the better for him and maybe it’s time Sthembiso Ngcobo started proving that he is much more than a powerfully built striker and can combine brute strength with skill to take the weight off Musona’s shoulders.
Telkom Knockout fixtures
Kaizer Chiefs vs Free State Stars, Rand Stadium, 3pm
Santos vs Mpumalanga Black Aces, Athlone Stadium, 8.15pm
SuperSport United vs Orlando Pirates, Loftus Stadium, 8.15pm
Maritzburg United vs Mamelodi Sundowns, Harry Gwala Stadium, 3pm