/ 20 May 2011

Glory beckons for Urban Warriors

Glory Beckons For Urban Warriors

The Absa Premiership trophy is there for Ajax Cape Town’s taking in the final week of what has been the most unpredictable and exciting championship in years.

On Saturday all the matches around the country have been pencilled in for a simultaneous kick-off.

But despite an overwhelming majority of experts tipping Ajax to break their duck and land their first league championship, the enterprising Urban Warriors were also advised to guard against complacency otherwise they could find the carpet being pulled out from under their feet.

Neil Tovey, former Bafana Bafana and Kaizer Chiefs captain, said: “To win the championship you need to establish a good home record. You must graft and sometimes burgle a point when playing away and you should be home and dry.”

Ajax — who are leading the race with 59 points followed by Pirates with 57 and Kaizer Chiefs with 56 — are going into the final match against Maritzburg United at home. Pirates line up against Lamontville Golden Arrows at Orlando Stadium and Kaizer Chiefs face a dangerous opponent in AmaZulu at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

The Ajax game is the swansong for Dutch coach Foppe de Haan and veteran goalkeeper Hans Vonk. Both are retiring. Although Vonk displays incredible reflexes for a 40-year-old, he wants to bow out while still on top of his game.

“We have to win this game,” said De Haan. “When you know what you have to do, it becomes easier. The way we train is the way we play. And what I have tried to instil in the team since I arrived here was to change things a little bit. We know how to play together, how to play a certain system and they have adapted very well.

“Sometimes I have been happy and at times unhappy. But that’s the way of the coach. We have to be highly focused this week. We must concentrate. But above all we have to do everything accordingly. We cannot afford to falter. We must stay calm and then everything will fall into place.”

Not that Maritzburg will allow Ajax to run them off the park — they have done pretty well during the past few weeks and their 3-1 triumph over a sorry Mamelodi Sundowns a fortnight ago was indicative of their potential. Ajax need to be wary of Gert Schalkwyk, Kurt Lentjies and Rudolf Bester.

Alex Maseko, former Bulawayo Highlanders and Mamelodi Sundowns central defender, also picked Ajax to lift the Holy Grail of local football. He singled out Thulani Serero as the player who might make the difference – just as he has done throughout the season, which might earn him the crown of Footballer of the Year.

“They [Ajax] are an exciting lot,” said Maseko. “They attack you relentlessly and their pace when going forward is frightening. In my view, Pirates and Chiefs will win their games, but will Ajax drop the ball at such a crucial stage?

“It is in their hands and I do not see them letting it slip.”

Neck on the block
Farouk Khan, former Kaizer Chiefs assistant coach, also put his neck on the block and predicted that Ajax would snatch the title, especially since they were playing at home where they had beaten all title contenders, including Chiefs and Pirates, this season. He also felt that De Haan’s tactical acumen would see them through.

“I think the 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Chiefs in their penultimate match was a blessing in disguise for them,” said Khan. “Perhaps if they had not been so cruelly exposed, they would be going into this match complacent and it would have been dangerous. But now they know that they cannot afford any slip-up.”

Khan felt there were going to be several upset results this weekend. He said he had a funny feeling that at least one of the title contenders could bite the dust.

Gavin Hunt, SuperSport United coach, recalled: “Two years ago we needed a single point to win the championship. We lost our final match to Bloemfontein Celtic.

“But fortunately Pirates who were chasing us failed to beat Santos and drew instead, enabling us to win the championship on goal difference.”

Hunt said that ahead of such a crucial weekend nerves could be frayed — as they were once again for United last year. They were leading but they cracked in their final match. Fortunately, Sundowns lost ground when going down to relegated Jomo Cosmos and they managed to win their third consecutive championship.

“Ajax need to do what they have been doing throughout the year,” said Tovey. “They cannot afford to change now and do things differently. That would be suicidal.

“They need to stay calm and work patiently then they will be rewarded. It is in their hands — the title is there for them to lose it if they do not want it,” Tovey said.

Khan’s final comments were: “I think Ajax need to hold their nerve for the first 15 minutes. Then they should be able to come through unscathed. It’s a pity they will not be at full strength with Terror Fanteni and Nazeer Allie absent through injuries. But I think Hans Vonk will display his leadership qualities in this game.”