MTN8 an appetiser for bigger duels to come

Ajax Cape Town. (Getty)

Ajax Cape Town. (Getty)

In the greater scheme of things, the MTN8 competition offers little substantive to its winner other than a celebration early in the season, relief from supporter pressure and, hopefully, stimulating an appetite for more success in the bigger competitions that follow.

The most it has going for itself is the huge R8-million winners’ cheque. All seven of the other competitors, irrespective of whether they went out at the first stage or reached the final, receive 10%, or R800 000, of the first-prize purse. But often it has proven something of a poisoned chalice. 

There are several past examples of MTN8 success negatively affecting the rest of the season as players wallow in their victory and suffer a motivation hangover that reflects in their ongoing form. But each year circumstances differ and, certainly, the 2015 finalists bring their own agendas to Saturday’s deciding game at Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.  

For Ajax Cape Town it is a chance for silverware, as the club has built up an impressive run of cup final appearances over the past 15 years. This will be their 10th, with a previous 33% success rate.  At an austerely run club, R8-million will be a huge boost, and an affirmation of their low-key transfer policy and promotion from their youth ranks. In the top eight tournament they have twice before been runners-up, with their 6-0 defeat at the Orlando Stadium at the hands of Lamontville Golden Arrows proving to be a club low point but remaining one of the more memorable finals in modern memory. 

Ironically, the loss jump-started a golden period for Ajax; the following week Foppe de Haan took over from Jan Pruijn as coach and set the club on course to come within minutes of a league title in the next 24 months. Ajax have since, with a few dips in between, kept up that platform despite a messy managerial fight that came close to wrecking the entire club. 

Of course, they start as underdogs against a Kaizer Chiefs side who have looked more polished with each performance since the start of the campaign. Steve Komphela has silenced doubters and won new admirers, but the fickle nature of the Chiefs job is such that failure would be a severe setback. Komphela was not an appointment met with universal approval, but he has set boldly about getting Chiefs to play with a more expansive outlook, sweeping through the opposition with ease when they get it right. But it also means they leave holes for the opposition to exploit, both in the middle of the park and behind the fullbacks. 

Ajax are one of the few clubs capable of taking advantage of the gaps. It promises to be a high-tempo game on a good surface.
Chances should abound. Both coaches will be concerned about wasteful finishing in front but their four goals in their last outing against SuperSport United on Saturday certainly allow Chiefs the belief they might be getting a little sharper in attack.  In the end, celebrations for the victors and disappointment for the vanquished should not last long. Within days they will be back to the business of the league, a competition of much more gravitas.

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