Platinum Stars shoot for the sky
The jury is still out on the legitimacy and longevity of Platinum Stars' challenging run, even after a consistent year of producing good results and good football.
Even Stars themselves seem uncertain about how long they will continue with a dream run that has already seen them finish as runners-up in the Premier League in May and then win the MTN8 in September.
Coach Allan Freese is still on a temporary deal since the departure of Cavin Johnson. Initially, he was planned as stopgap caretaker while a replacement was sought but, since engineering cup success, Freese continues at the helm – understandably: Stars are prepared to leave him in charge as long as the results remain positive.
But there will come a point when he might no longer stand for temporary arrangements and force the club to show faith in the processes that keep them up among the frontrunners.
That might come as soon as Sunday morning, given that Stars have a chance on Saturday night to reach a second successive final. They play Kaizer Chiefs in the Telkom Knockout semifinal at Soccer City, with more than just a credible chance to advance to the final at the end of the month.
Individually, Stars players do not live up to the team's moniker.
Their only Bafana Bafana prospect is the young centre back, Tshepo Gumede, and most of Platinum Stars' key players have supposedly seen better days.
But the likes of Henrico Botes, Vuyo Mere and Benson Mhlongo have shown that youth is no substitute for quality in the sporting arena and have proved to be the backbone of a collection of players not much more heralded than journeymen.
Botes might be rapidly approaching his 34th birthday, but few players in the league can hold up the ball as well as this attacker does.
His finishing is above average too.
Mere is in his 13th season in the top flight but still only 29. He looks 19 at times as he marauds up and down the wing from his fullback position, adding a dangerous element to the Stars' attack.
Defender Mhlongo, who missed out on the 2010 World Cup because of injury, is now 33 but as competitive as ever. He plays a big part in the family atmosphere they seem to have cultivated at the club.
"You can see they are a tightly knit bunch who battle for each other," said Maritzburg United coach Clinton Larsen earlier this month, after losing at home to Stars.
Chiefs will be wary. Stuart Baxter has admitted that, in recent matches, a little of last season's sharpness has been blunted by winning the league and cup "double" and that Chiefs' competitive juices are not flowing as intensely as before.
Chiefs have tended to switch on and off in recent games, much to the irritation of their coach. As much was evidenced against Bidvest Wits in their last encounter, when they were run ragged for a good deal of the second half, yet scrambled a late winner for a precious three-point haul.
Saturday sees the other semifinal tie between SuperSport United and Orlando Pirates at Atteridgeville.
A penalty shoot-out separated the two at the end of a bruising encounter when they met in the previous competition, the MTN8, at Nelspruit in August.
It is the first game for Pirates since the CAF Champions League final almost two weeks ago but there has hardly been any time for key players such as Andile Jali, Thabo Matlaba and Oupa Manyisa, all involved with Bafana Bafana over the past week, to have a much-needed rest.
The competition final has been shifted back a week to December 7 and will be played at the Mbombela Stadium