Sport

Chiefs, Sundowns' final clash leaves cup half empty

Mark Gleeson

It's hard to work up excitement for the Nedbank Cup – unless Chiefs' Jabu Mahlangu finds the back of the net.

Chiefs host SuperSport United in an afternoon kick-off at Soccer City in a repeat of last year's final, followed later in the evening by Sundowns' clash with Orlando Pirates at Loftus Versfeld. (Reuters)

Two usually mouth-watering ties stand out from the weekend's list of Nedbank Cup fixtures but with the race for the league title between Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns heading towards a potentially spellbinding finish, there is little anticipation or excitement for the knockout clashes.

Chiefs and Sundowns both play on Saturday – keeping on course for the league and cup "double" – although just how much they relish the prospect is unclear. Probably little.

Chiefs host SuperSport United in an afternoon kick-off at Soccer City in a repeat of last year's final, followed later in the evening by Sundowns' clash with Orlando Pirates at Loftus Versfeld.

The organisers would have expected hype and build-up second to none in the days leading up to the games, given the lustre of the draw, but frankly all the talk remains focused on who will win the league. Cup competition is increasingly losing its lustre worldwide; in South Africa, because there are too many knockout competitions that all seem to morph into each other.

The prospect of a handsome monetary reward made cup success an essential target for clubs in previous decades; now the grants given clubs as their share of the television bounty renders the cup spoils a mere trifle. Even the FA Cup, which is the oldest competition of its kind, commands a fraction of the reverence it had in the past.

The drama of instant success or pain of sudden elimination is now the preserve of the Uefa Champions League – a far more glamorous entity, populated with the best players on the planet.

Parochial excitement
In the past the FA Cup was the arena for the David to slay Goliath; for smaller clubs to enjoy a rare run in the spotlight and for supporters to break from the banality of their weekend league routine and jolt the senses. But the changing social dynamic in England also means that parochial excitement now pales beside the international flavour of the Champions League, no better evidenced than on Tuesday night as Chelsea snatched a late semifinal place.

In South Africa there is little of the culture of following your side on a mazy cup run, travelling to exotic destinations as they progress through the various rounds. Millions take to trains at weekends across Europe to support their teams. There are also far too few giant-killing games, although more in recent years than in the 1980s and 1990s, when there was hardly an upset result at all.

The prospect of qualifying as Nedbank Cup winner to play in next year's African Confederation Cup is no incentive either. While the African Champions League has gained in importance on the agenda of Premier Soccer League clubs, the Confed remains an odious obligation.

The incentive left in cup competition is for coaches and players to improve their CVs, earn some bonus money and for the fans to enjoy brief bragging rights. The PSL will have tried to market this weekend's quarterfinal round but the footballing community waits in anticipation for the next round of league games coming up in midweek.

That's not to say we cannot expect some fireworks tomorrow, particularly on the part of ailing Pirates, whose league race is over but who can still mark a season of much endeavour with a piece of silverware. They have lost their last two league matches in displays of obvious fatigue, but a week's break might prove enough of a tonic to overcome a Sundowns side with other matters on their mind.

There is also the delicious prospect of former Chiefs "bad boy" Jabu (Pule) Mahlangu getting a runout for SuperSport against his former club, as he continues his return to the game and personal rehabilitation at the age of 33. If he scores against Chiefs, the cup suddenly runneth over.

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