/ 20 September 2012

Cup final set to entertaining, if crowdless

Moroka Swallows' reborn midfielder Lerato Chabangu.
Moroka Swallows' reborn midfielder Lerato Chabangu.

And plenty of them for that matter.

In their past games, Swallows and United scored two and three goals respectively.

You would think the fact that Swallows went on to lose 3-2 in their match against rookies University of Pretoria should tip the scales in United's favour tomorrow. But that would be wrong. What United and Swallows bring to the final is a very important statistic: they are the only teams to have beaten Orlando Pirates since the beginning of the season, and both scored three goals against the PSL and MTN8 defending champions.

SuperSport beat Pirates 3-0 in the semifinals, after the two teams played to a goalless draw in the first leg. A week later in the league, Swallows dished out the same humiliation.

Beating Pirates is not the only similarity and strength the clubs bring to Orlando Stadium tomorrow – ironically, the home ground of Pirates and the venue of both losses of the Buccaneers.

Swallows – hands down the most improved team of the 2011-12 season – have been playing the most entertaining and attacking football lately. Under the tutelage of Gordon Igesund, now in charge of the national side, Swallows moved from being perennial losers and survivors to championship contenders.

Until the last game of last season, the third leg of the legendary Soweto Big Three (including Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs) had a realistic chance of lifting the PSL trophy. They came a close second to Pirates.

Average seasons
Although they are three time championship winners, United had two average seasons back to back and their cup-winning record is not as glowing as coach Gavin Hunt would like it to be.

Hunt, one of the most outspoken coaches in the league, brings a rejuvenated side to this final and he will be hoping that his cup record will have improved come the final whistle.

His opposite number Zeca Marques could not have asked for a better opportunity to prove that he is equal to the task. After deputising to Igesund last season, Marques was given the top job at Swallows and he has acquitted himself well so far.

He brings with him to the final pretty much the same team that Igesund built, mostly centred around reborn midfielder Lerato Chabangu and ageless striker Siyabonga Nomvethe.

Once the enfant terrible of local football, making headlines more for his shenanigans off the pitch than on it, Chabangu has always been one of the most talked-about players in the country. But he is hot property right now and his call-up to the national side has nothing to do with his former coach being at the helm of Bafana Bafana.

Nomvethe, who was also recalled to the national side although he could not play in the recent match against Brazil, was last season's top goal­scorer and, if his start to this season is anything to go by, his appetite for goals remains unabated.

One of the secrets to Hunt's success is his amazing eye for talent coupled with his ability to mould "minnows" into big names worthy of national call-ups and recognition.

A cursory look at the squad he brings into the game would suggest that United are made up mainly of a bunch of unknowns, on the one hand, and veterans that are at the end of their careers on the other.

If this assumption is true, then another truth has to be the recognition that Hunt is a great motivator and knows how to bring out the best in his players despite his modest budget compared with the likes of Pirates, Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns.

Pity the numbers in the stands will not half match the excitement this game promises – unfortunately, both teams are among many in the PSL that attract very few supporters to their games. Unless some engineering happens behind the scenes, it is hard to imagine a half-full 40 000-capacity Orlando Stadium.

Swallows have the upper hand on the crowd stakes. Although lagging far behind their old rivals of Soweto, they still command good local support and, maybe, the advantage of playing in Orlando may just have a few thousand Maswaiswai (as their fans are known) going through the turnstiles.

Fortunately, this is the only game of the day and it is being televised, so thousands of football fans will be glued to their screens for what promises to be a very entertaining final.