/ 4 March 2016

Giant-killing shake-ups add spice to cup football

Happiness: Another derby for Chiefs fans.
Happiness: Another derby for Chiefs fans.

In the Netherlands this week, almost an entire village left for the night to watch their local club in an improbable bid to reach the Dutch Cup final. VVSB from Noordwijkerhout in the country’s tulip-producing region lost 3-0 to FC Utrecht to end a fairy-tale run and were denied a place in the final, but their progress to the last four captivated the country.

The night before, Alessandria, from the Piedmont area and down in the fourth tier of Italian football, featured in the semifinal of Copa Italia for the first time since their only previous appearance 80 years ago. Although they lost 6-0 on aggregate to AC Milan, they too spoke to the dramatic and endearing possibility a cup competition provides.

On Thursday evening Granville, amateurs from lower Normandy, played former European champions Olympique de Marseille in the last eight of the French Cup in as lopsided a cup tie as is possible.

The FA Cup is always best remembered not for pulsating ties between lofty challengers but David versus Goliath contests in which the underdog emerges victor, to the delight of the neutrals.

Just 12 years ago, lowly Bradford City knocked Chelsea out, but the FA Cup’s most written-about moment remains second-division Sunderland’s win over the then mighty Leeds United in the 1973 final. It was Boy’s Own heroics that have since spawned several books and a recent television documentary well worth watching.

Giant-killing feats in this country’s version of the FA Cup were few and far between for the first 30 years of the annual competition, but since then a trail of romantic upsets have multiplied, with Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates the most significant scalps.

In 2009 second-tier outfit University of Pretoria went all the way to the Nedbank Cup final, but it was their 4-3 win in the second round over Chiefs that put the emerging club on the map. Andile Jali, Mthokozisi Yende and Phenyo Mongalo powered their charge with goals.

A tense tussle saw the teams locked at 3-3 going into the closing stages, and when AmaTuks’s Obert Moyo was red-carded, a Chiefs win seemed inevitable. But Mongalo, who would later move to Pirates, netted a late winner. Chiefs also lost the following year to FC Cape Town, but it was their embarrassing exit in 2011 in the quarterfinals at the hands of Baroka FC that was an upset like no other.

Chiefs led through Knowledge Musona in the first half and everything looked routine then, but Sam Ndlovu brought the third-tier side level just before half-time. And current Polokwane City midfielder Thobani Mncwango added a winner in the second half for what was then the greatest cup upset in South African football history.

That was until Maluti FET College FC hit the headlines with a stunning victory over Orlando Pirates three years ago. At the time campaigning in the Free State’s ABC Motsepe League, Maluti banged in four goals and could even afford to miss a penalty in a comprehensive cup upset.

They were ahead inside 47 seconds through Lucky Mokoena, the first of two on the day for him to go with a brace for Mashale Rantabane. Mokoena also missed from the spot as Oupa Manyisa pulled one back on a sorry afternoon for Pirates.

The first-round draw for this competition does not provide for great shocks, although if National First Division club Highlands Park overcome Mamelodi Sundowns, that will grab attention.

Instead, the anomaly of Chiefs and Pirates being drawn against each other in the opening round is the headline act of the weekend. Never have they met this early in a cup competition before and losing one of the protagonists at this stage will have an impact on interest over the next months – something of a nightmare for the sponsors.

But the fact that the disease of seeding has not yet afflicted the Nedbank Cup is to the credit of the local game.

For Chiefs and Pirates this competition is, effectively, a last shot at silverware this season. Chiefs might still mathematically count themselves contenders for the league title race, but Sundowns are in such commanding form it would take a dramatic turnaround for Amakhosi to have any chance of defending their title.

Chiefs played in this season’s other two cup finals and lost both. Redemption is important, but Pirates also have Nedbank Cup success high on their agenda as they seek a route back to African club competition in 2017.

The spectre of two slightly overweight and bruised heavyweights slugging it out at Soccer City might prove excruciating to watch, but it is still a fixture that continues to captivate the country, even if it now comes around all too often.