Nedbank Cup: Action on the double
The double is on. Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United are both on the cusp of a double, albeit of different types.
If Chiefs win the Nedbank Cup, they will have won a league and a cup double, once a mean feat in itself until Orlando Pirates won a treble – back to back – and set a new benchmark. Still, it will be a fitting end to a season that Chiefs bigwigs dedicated to "reclaiming the glory" and perhaps a pivot for a new era of Amakhosi hegemony.
United, on the other hand, are a game away from winning the local football association's cup twice on the trot.
If they do, they will become the first club to win it two seasons in a row since Chiefs won the trophy, then known as the Mainstay Cup, in 1981 and 1982.
With Chiefs already committed to the Confederation of African Football Champions League, United are guaranteed another tilt at the Confederation Cup after they bombed out when losing 1-3 to Egypt's ENPPI.
With or without the Confederation Cup berth at stake, it should be an encounter that will justify the on- and off-field management styles of the two sides.
Chiefs spent millions assembling their team. The Bafana Bafana coach has called on the club's entire back five, with Tefu Mashamaite and goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune being the only players to have been with the club before the 2012-2013 season started.
United have stuck to their philosophy of buying players without big reputations – think Prince Hlela or Roscoe Pietersen – or stars in the twilight of their careers, as was the case with the acquisition of former Pirates and Bafana Bafana defender Lucas Thwala.
On the field of play, it is a clash of two sides with contrasting styles: the quintessential utilitarians United against the Naturena-based artists.
Unlike their previous game last Wednesday, which ended in a one-all draw, honours will not be shared this time around. One club will bank the R7-million winners' cheque and another will rue what could have been.
Chiefs fans were not happy with the club's performance against first division side United FC in the semifinal. They looked at the possession statistics, which showed that Dan Malesela's side had had the lion's share of the ball plus the fact that the club won by a single goal margin (2-1) as corroborating their reasons for not being happy.
By looking at the facts alone, the fans missed the story. Chiefs allowed the lower tier side to play sideways and backwards or anywhere except in the danger areas. They got the results.
Against this United, Chiefs play a side that is not obsessed with having the ball at its feet. United are no Barcelona but they get the job done. They are the exception that proves the rule that possession is nine-tenths of the law.
Gavin Hunt has perfected the art of ensuring that the end justifies the means. Goal of the year contender Mor Diouf spotted the Sundowns goalkeeper wandering way out of his 18-box. Tried his luck with a long punt only for the ball to elude the keeper and end in the Sundown net. Full-time score, SuperSport 1, Sundowns 0. That about summarises Hunt's philosophy at United.
Playing badly and winning
It is easy for United to play the way they do. They have no fans to please with pretty football. Hunt can get away with the indisputable fact that there is no space allocated for commentary on the scoreboard. They are a side happy for the other side to play better as long as they walk away with the points – or the cup.
What Hunt does not have is a second chance to go out with a bang. United striker Sibusiso "Rhee" Zuma all but confirmed what has been an open secret in local football when he said the side will want to win the cup as a farewell gift to coach Hunt.
The United coach is expected to join Bidvest Wits next season.
Chiefs' coach Stuart Baxter does not have the luxury of playing badly and winning. The club has been hungry for success. With the league title delivered, expectations are high for cup trophy.
At Chiefs, success has been assumed to be an inherent right. Success with swagger has been the defining motif for the 43 years of Chiefs' existence. Therefore, the club faithful will turn out at the Durban seaside ground with after-parties already planned.
They will do so either in the belief that Chiefs' lapse in form of late – nicely concealed by the club succeeding in annexing the league championship from rival Orlando Pirates – was a minor bleep rather than an indication that the club has run out of gas or guns.
Having done the hard grind early on in the season, Chiefs could afford a dip in form that saw them go four league matches without a win. Two of their three league losses occurred in that time.
It being a cup final, previous form will count for little. For, even if it did not, SuperSport have not exactly set the league alight of late. They lost twice and won one of their last four league matches. They arrive at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on the back of a scrappy win over Platinum Stars.
By most accounts, it is has been a memorable Premier Soccer League season, with the largesse spread across the league. Moroka Swallows won the MTN8, Bloemfontein Celtic the Telkom Cup and Chiefs reclaimed their glory. Rookies University of Pretoria are in the top half of the log.
Fans and neutrals alike will hope for a final befitting the exciting season 2012-2013 has been.