Three toppers' last chance to claim a cup
A trio of top-flight clubs go in search of much-needed silverware, having made little impression elsewhere during this campaign, as they play in the Nedbank Cup semifinals on Saturday, but it is the giant killers of Ga-Mphahlele who command the focus.
Five years ago the club from just outside Polokwane were catapulted into the national spotlight with a barnstorming run to the same stage of the cup, famously knocking out Kaizer Chiefs along the way.
It is one of only three times that a club from the third tier of the domestic game has beaten a side at the highest professional level and remains the most embarrassing moment in the rich cup history of Chiefs.
Baroka have since gone on to climb up to the second tier and this season lead the national first division, on the cusp of gaining automatic promotion to the top level and mixing more regularly with the big boys.
It is not a prospect that will excite too many of them. Already this year – the only other time Baroka have actually made it through the preliminaries of the Nedbank Cup – they have taken down three clubs from the Premier Soccer League.
First it was a stunning, come-from-behind away win over Chippa United in East London, where Baroka had the temerity to rest several of their key players with an eye on their league campaign and promotion.
They have since stuck with the policy of playing some of their fringe players and an almost second-string selection beat Lamontville Golden Arrows next and then Polokwane City in a derby match in the quarterfinals.
On Saturday night, Baroka travel away yet again, this time to face SuperSport United at Atteridgeville.
Again the pace and trickery of the free-running Baroka will be a menace and, if SuperSport defend like they did in the league last weekend, then there is every chance the fairy-tale run will continue. At times, it seems as if there is little structure to the Baroka game but the absence of any discernible plan is an obvious advantage, making it hard for opponents to neutralise them. SuperSport have their own flair, notably provided by Thuso Phala and Dove Wome, but may be lopsided with muscle rather than finesse. An intriguing contest awaits.
But not before Free State Stars host Orlando Pirates at Bethlehem on Saturday afternoon in a cramped venue where no more than 5?000 spectators can congregate.
Stars sought the advantage their cosy venue gives them over the potential to make more money at the gate by moving the game to larger venue, such as Orkney – an indication of how keen they are to land a first trophy since they won the old-style Coca-Cola Cup in 1994.
That was their only previous trophy success but the club from the chilly climes of the eastern Free State have been perennial campaigners, if not so much for success but as a regular source of top-quality players for the bigger clubs in Gauteng to sign.
They started the season propping up the league table but recovered well under Ernst Middendorp before Christmas and have kicked on under the unknown Italian Gianni Solinas, working in tandem with former Bafana Bafana fullback Bradley Carnell.
Pirates have slumped in recent games after making a belated push for a top-three cup place, which has coach Eric Tinkler tearing at his short-cropped hair.
The Buccaneers want some silverware to show for a long season and in particular the place in African club competition that is granted to the winners of the previous year’s edition of the Nedbank Cup. On paper a final between Pirates and SuperSport seems most likely but Baroka and Stars will be no pushovers.