The midfield duel will hold the key to Saturday night’s intriguing MTN8 final between Soweto archrivals Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. Kick-off is at 8.15pm.
Both teams have talked up finding weaknesses in the other side’s defence but it will be in the middle of the park where the final is won and lost.
Pirates’ technical team, however, believe they know where Ajax Cape Town went wrong in the semifinal, second leg against the Birds last weekend and will not be making the same mistakes when they face a high-flying Swallows.
The Birds flew past Ajax, winning 3-2 in their semifinal, second leg after a goalless first leg, while Bucs defeated their other Soweto rivals, Kaizer Chiefs, 1-0 to reach the final after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
Pirates coach Ruud Krol and his assistant, Craig Rosslee, have been busy behind the scenes this week, running the rule over Swallows.
“We have spotted flaws we can exploit. Ajax had the game in the bag but went to sleep in the last 10 minutes and paid the penalty,” Rosslee said.
“We will be looking at DVDs of Swallows matches and take it from there. We aim to be well prepared.”
It would appear Rosslee and Krol will target Birds’ suspect defence in the Durban showpiece.
Rosslee, at 40 one of the country’s promising coaches, relishes cup finals. As head coach of the Urban Warriors he plotted Bucs’ downfall two years ago and led Ajax to a 2-1 triumph in the 2008 Telkom Knockout final in Krol’s first year in charge at Pirates.
Now he relishes the chance to help the former Dutch captain plot Swallows’ downfall.
Rosslee and Krol form a formidable coaching combination of youth and experience as they look to secure Bucs their first knockout trophy in 10 years.
Swallows coach Rainer Zobel also hopes to exploit weaknesses in the Pirates rear guard, but Rosslee laughed it off.
“We will have to wait and see who has spotted the best weaknesses,” Rosslee said.
“Believe me, we aim to return from Durban with the cup on board the plane.”
Rosslee added that they had a plan to contain Swallows dangerman and veteran skipper Siyabonga Nomvethe, should he start. The former Bafana Bafana striker injured ligaments in his hand against Ajax and needed an operation. If he plays he will have to have a cast specially made for his hand.
Zobel said he would make a late decision on whether or not to risk his captain.
Birds star defender Ramahlwe Mphahlele, who is set to replace Nomvethe as captain should he fail his late fitness test, believes the Pirates midfield, and in particular their speedy wingers, hold the key.
“Pirates have a top-class midfield that we need to contain,” Mphahlele said.
“The wingers in particular, such as Daine Klate, Tlou Segolela, Dikgang Mabalane and Mark Mayambela, will have to be watched. I reckon that is Pirates’ strength at present.”
Mphahlele will be playing in his second cup final in two years, having helped the Birds defeat First Division giant killers Pretoria University 1-0 in the 2009 Nedbank Cup final. And he reckons going in to a final as the underdogs is nothing new.
“We were actually the underdogs against Tuks because they had beaten so many big PSL clubs on the way to the final, including Ajax and Kaizer Chiefs, so we do not worry about who are favourites and who are not,” Mphahlele said.
“All that matters is who lifts the trophy at the end of the game, and hopefully that will be us.” – Sapa