Morgan Gould this week described SuperSport United’s appearance in the MTN8 final as sneaking through the back door. It’s an apt description from the experienced centre back: his side fell apart shortly after winning this competition last year and only slipped into the top eight after the season concluded.
Things have come full circle.
Now it’s Saturday’s opponent, Cape Town City, the same as in 2017, that find themselves treading water in the league after a difficult start. They enter the match as underdogs.
“This is a cup final; recent form counts for nothing,” Gould insists on the sidelines of the team’s Megawatt Park training ground this week.
“I’ve learnt what you were in football you may not be tomorrow. It’s one of those things determined by who keeps their nerve and who wants it more. You just need to give your best knowing that the other team is going to give their best. I can bet you, they’re not going to hold back, we’re not going to hold back. It’s one of those games where City want to get one over us and we just want to retain the cup.”
Although confidence reigns, there’s a distinct understanding among everyone about the responsibility that comes with heading into the game as favourites. In the context of the final, being the better team probably means you’re capable of maintaining your concentration and tempo over a longer period.
Such was the story at the Moses Mabhida Stadium last year. Benni McCarthy would probably struggle to explain why he left with only a silver medal that day. After Sibusiso Masina secured the lead and forward momentum on the 20th minute, City had countless opportunities to put the game beyond reach. Lehlohonolo Majoro, in particular, scuffed what should have been at least two fairly comfortable finishes. After the 80th-minute equaliser there was always going to be one outcome, even as the game stretched into penalties.
That lack of killer instinct has replicated itself in the Blue and Gold Army’s opening games —they’ve managed only one win going into this weekend —and it is a large reason why Matsatsantsa are the bookmakers’ preferred choice.
“We’re happy to go into the final as favourites,” says SuperSport striker Bradley Grobler. “It’s a good thing; it shows that the team is doing well. And the players are doing well and the coach is happy again.
“It’s easy for me to say no but 100% I think that form does help. I think the mood in the camp is as high as I’ve seen it for a long time. In terms of confidence and the mood in the team, form does play a part.”
Grobler’s own form was a key factor in reaching the final. His three goals in the two semifinal legs against Kaizer Chiefs are some of the most ruthless you’ll see this season.
City are not without their own threats. Ayanda Patosi is one of the hottest players in the country at the moment and there’s not a defender around that would relish playing against him. Thabo Nodada, meanwhile, was singled out by Gould as one to marshal carefully.
Like his players, coach Kaitano Tembo is striving to find the perfect balance between confidence and pragmatism. There’s little chance the former Zimbabwe international will go into Saturday lightly, especially considering it is against a team establishing themselves as a bit of a rival to Matsatsantsa.
“It’s always hard to play against Cape Town City, you know all the cup finals they’ve played, they’ve played against us,” he recalls just before heading to the training field.
“So we know that we’re up against a very good team. We know each other very well and there are no secrets. The team that is better prepared mentally will be able to execute all the tactics that they have on the day. The trend is that we’ve been meeting each other quite often so it’s going to be a tough game.”
If it goes to 120 minutes once more, Tembo will hope it’s that added confidence from recent weeks that carries them to the podium.
The MTN8 final kicks off at 7pm at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday. The pre-match experience will begin from 2pm and has been given a “Gqom vs Maskandi” theme. Acts will include DJ Tira, Shwi Nomtekhala, Tipcee, Khuzani, Distruction Boyz, Igcokama Elisha, Dladla Mshunqisi, DSD and Professor.