Looking for the knockout shot

Ajax Cape Town were the only Telkom knockout quarter-finalists to emerge victorious from a midweek set of league matches that produced a fair deal of carnage in the Premier Soccer League.

The shock results accentuated the unpredictability of cup football and left few indicators of what is to come at the weekend – save for the fact that all of the pre-competition favourites had been fortuitously handed home advantage in the draw.

Bidvest Wits, Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates all host games in a bid to force a place in next month’s semi-finals of the competition.

It is presumed their midweek stumbles would have been influenced in some part by the anticipation of the cup games. There is always the tendency among local players to begin the mental build-up to important assignments before they get more mundane tasks out of the way.

League leaders Chiefs, winners of the last knockout trophy in the MTN8, had their winning streak stopped by Moroka Swallows but will probably be as relieved as they are disappointed that it is all over. It had threatened to become an all-consuming task that overshadowed everything else as coach Stuart Baxter had predicted.

Chiefs host holders Platinum Stars on Sunday, preceded by three back-to-back games on Saturday in Gauteng. Wits and SuperSport United meet at Milpark in a contest between Gavin Hunt and Gordon Igesund, who, between them, have won eight league titles in the past two decades.

Hazardous warning
It is followed by Mamelodi Sundowns at home against AmaZulu in what would seem the most one-sided of the encounters but carried a hazardous warning from coach Pitso Mosimane: “AmaZulu will be a difficult team. A cup game is a [one-off] and has nothing to do with what is happening to them in the league.”

AmaZulu have yet to win a league game this season but did get a valuable point at Free State Stars on Wednesday. “We were forced to extra time by AmaTuks in the last round,” said Mosimane remembering the precarious nature of knockout football. “I hope we can get to the semifinals.”

On Saturday, Roger de Sa returns for the first time to Orlando Stadium since his dramatic resignation from the Pirates job just after the turn of the year.

It was not long after this that he moved to Cape Town to take charge of Ajax and, with almost one-third of the new season complete, has his young charges in an unlikely second place – although they did need to hold on grimly to beat Platinum Stars 2-1 at home on Wednesday, after a defeat to Chiefs at the weekend.

“Of this run of three games, I always thought the Stars game would be the most difficult because I don’t need to motivate the guys to play Chiefs and Pirates,” De Sa said, confirming the theory that players tend to fluctuate their intensity based on the opposition.

“We believe Pirates are beatable. I know them pretty OK – they haven’t changed much since I was there … certainly not how they defend set pieces.”

Ajax will be up against a Pirates side beaten by Mpumalanga Black Aces on Tuesday night and looking increasingly haunted by the internal strife that has had chairman Irvin Khoza having to call a few “clear the air” meetings already.

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