Sparks to fly in Cup play-offs

Free State Stars coach Kinnah Phiri is hoping that lightning will strike twice in the same place in one season when they host Santos in the quarterfinals of the Nedbank Cup at Goble Park on Sunday at 3pm.

Stars are the only side to have beaten high-riding Santos in the Absa Premiership this year—4-1 in February at Goble Park in Bethlehem at the start of the second round of the league.

It was new Santos coach David Bright’s first match in charge. But since then the People’s Team are unbeaten and, from a side fighting relegation, the former Botswana under-23 coach has propelled Santos into genuine contenders in both the cup and league.

Santos are third in the league standings, five points adrift of leaders SuperSport United with five fixtures to play.

But Malawian Phiri has his own dreams.

He said: “I am not losing any sleep over Santos, who are on a good run. My goal is to finish in the top eight and reach the cup final.
We may have a psychological advantage over them, having dumped them 4-1 earlier this year. But I do not fear them.”

Stars put up a good show against Santos’ neighbours, Ajax Cape Town, by holding the second-placed Urban Warriors to a 1-1 league draw in Welkom this week.

Said Phiri: ““We created a lot of chances and were unlucky not to have won that game. We created more chances despite the fact I did not have my top strikers, Diyo Sibisi and Sthembiso Ncgobo, available.”

The bad news for Santos is both Diyo and Ncgobo will lead the attack on Sunday.

More good news from the Stars camp is tough-as-nails defenders, Kampamba Chintu and Sipho Nkosi, are back in action.

Said Phiri: “My biggest problem was the defence. Now that both Chintu and Nkosi are back, it makes us a lot stronger and gives me added confidence.”

The other news from Stars is that the local municipality have repaired the Goble Park pitch, which was a disgrace when Stars beat Platinum Stars there in an early cup clash.

“We have not lost a game in the second round at Goble Park and we aim to maintain that record,” said Phiri

Sunday’s other cup tie is also an all-Premiership affair, with bottom club Black Leopards hosting AmaZulu at Thohoyandou. Kick-off is at 5pm.

AmaZulu have had a better than usual season. For the first time in a long while Usuthu are not fighting relegation or having internal management squabbles to deal with.

AmaZulu strengthened their technical team when head coach Clive Barker roped in former AmaZulu, Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana captain Neil Tovey as his technical manager.

Tovey, who with Miguel Gamondi guided Mamelodi Sundowns in the 2005/06 season, has made a good impression in the short time he has worked alongside Barker.

The combination works well. The two have been close friends since Tovey played under Barker at AmaZulu in the 1980s.

Said Tovey: “I worked with Clive when I played at AmaZulu and Bafana. We share the same philosophies about the game and how to play it.”

Leopards look doomed and will eye the cup as the last hope of salvaging something from a disastrous season.

Saturday sees a clash between two First Division sides, Nathi Lions, coached by former great Professor Ngubane, and Mpumalanga Black Aces at Witbank’s Atlantic Stadium. Kick-off is at 3pm.

Aces hold the best hand. They have a side brimming with ex-Premiership stars, including former Orlando Pirates defenders Felix Musasa and Mandla Zwane, former Kaizer Chiefs defender Isaac Mabotsa and striker Thabang Musasa.

Aces’ greater experience should see them reach the semifinals for the first time in their history.

In Saturday’s other cup clash Mamelodi Sundowns should coast past First Division FC Cape Town when they meet at the Athlone Stadium at 8pm. Downs will carry far too much ammunition for their lower league opponents.—Sapa

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