/ 29 March 2018

Nedbank Cup offers intrigue

Last stretch: Lebohang Maboe’s team
Last stretch: Lebohang Maboe’s team

The international break never fails to let you down. Aside from the usual assortment of international fixtures, South African fans also had Bafana’s trip to Zambia to not watch on TV. Stuart Baxter and Co brought the inaugural Four Nations trophy home for what it’s worth, despite the coach’s preference for a trip overseas.

Thankfully that’s all over now, and real football can get going again.

Before we jump into the last 100m of the PSL race, though, it’s time for the equally alluring Nedbank Cup quarterfinals this weekend. The draw for the last eight of the competition has served plenty of intrigue on to our plates, with a healthy side of subplot to go along with it.

Many of the remaining teams have by this time been forced to confront what their lot in the league is and so will view this as a last chance for collecting silverware.

Kaizer Chiefs will certainly be among the hungriest. Defeat in the Soweto Derby all but consigned the team to the stands to watch the two-horse gallop to the finish. Nedbank Cup glory is now imperative for a team that hasn’t managed to stumble on many trophies in recent years.

Steve Komphela in particular needs a life jacket if speculation is to be trusted. Just on Tuesday, The Sowetan encapsulated recent suspicions on its front page: “One race Komphela is winning hands down.” Spoiler alert, it’s the sack race.

Amakhosi take on Baroka for a place in the semifinals. It’s a team that brings cause to reminisce on Leonardo Castro’s thunderous left-footed 83rd-minute winner back in January — his first goal for the club.

Sitting dapper on the other end of the appreciation scale is Fadlu Davids and Maritzburg United. The young tactician has taken the team to new heights this season; they currently sit firmly in third in the league, a kick of the ball away from the title race.

Securing a cup trophy will be the perfect tangible symbol to mark the transformation of the club. They welcome middling Bloemfontein Celtic to the Harry Gwala Stadium. Davids will be confident of overcoming the visitors, despite the wild-card potential of Phunya Sele Sele.

Unlike the other quarterfinalists, Sundowns will greedily eye the Nedbank Cup as an opportunity to net a double this season. Sitting above Orlando Pirates in the league by a point and a game in hand, Pitso Mosimane probably sees no reason why he can’t deliver both with some shrewd fixture management.

But their opponents will not be rolling out any quality Mother City hospitality. Cape Town City have already overcome Bidvest Wits and a weakened Pirates on a fog-filled pitch. Neighbours Ubuntu Cape Town meanwhile open the doors of Athlone Stadium to Free State Stars. Ea Lla Koto, like Maritzburg United, have decided not to follow the expected narrative this season and currently sit above fifth-placed Chiefs. A shot at cup glory is a just reward for the hard-working side that finished 14th last season.

It’s not clear whether Ubuntu would prefer to be a chapter in that fairy tale or instead write their own. The only National First Division side left in the tournament has already dispatched two PSL clubs —Polokwane City and AmaZulu. Now, however, they face a legitimate relegation threat and may opt to deprioritise the cup.