Few footballing fates sound worse than what SuperSport United players had to endure in the MTN8 final.
After 90 minutes of action, a rigorous half-hour of extra time, a failed penalty shootout and a heartbreaking result, it was time for an ice bath.
The natural response after losing a final would be to sulk and slink home. But with a league game three days later, the team had to prepare immediately after the final whistle.
“We had to get these players physically recovered first and so ice baths is what we did with them just to get the muscles in tune again and get them working,” says goalkeeping coach Andre Arendse. “It’s a standard thing but we needed it more …after the game on the weekend.”
Matsatsantsa a Pitori battled against Cape Town City, who dictated much of the tempo but couldn’t find the net, for MTN8 honours. Unlike the repeat match up last year, Ronwen Williams couldn’t repeat his heroics and Thabo Nodada was able to convert his kick and send the trophy to the Mother City.
With PSL games clogging up early October, the extra time and draining shootout were good for no one. Both sides played the Tuesday before the final on Saturday and again this weekend —Benni McCarthy’s City getting a particularly crappy deal with a game on Friday.
It’s on occasions like this when backroom staff earn their salaries and test their ability to manage a fatigued team.
“I think the biggest test for us was a mental one,” says Arendse. “The training session the day after the final was very light. From a mental side, we had to make training low-key;lots of fun-based elements, little competitions here and there. Just so we take the cup final out of the minds of the players, get them focused on the fun element of the game.”
The effort has so far proved efficient. Coach Kaitano Tembo will not be disappointed with a draw away to sixth-placed Polokwane City that keeps them a win away from jumping back to top spot. Having taken the lead in the ninth minute and coming close to adding to it later on, he could have had even more.
MTN8 winners City, meanwhile, have stumbled in their first go at this week’s vigorous gauntlet.
They had to contain their euphoria after achieving what was only a second top-flight honour in the club’s short history.
“It’s not like we’ve been in a position to win titles back and forth so for us when we won on Saturday we celebrated and had a good time and we only returned back to Cape Town on Sunday,” says assistant coach Rayaan Jacobs.
“We’re dealing with humans, you know? If you’re Barcelona from 2010-14 and you’re serial winner you know you just go home and have another meal because you’ve won another trophy. But for a club like us, if we win a trophy we can’t stop the guys from celebrating this kind of achievement. We try manage it to a degree but we also are realistic.”
Urging players into ice baths may be difficult;calling for calm after netting much-deserved silverware is well nigh impossible. It’s a consequence of South African scheduling, which concludes a knockout competition in September.
McCarthy shuffled his line-up for the visit of Bidvest Wits but their efforts to mitigate the congestion were unsuccessful. City offered little and even a horrible penalty call wasn’t enough for the former Bafana hitman to let his team off in his post-match interview.
Secretly, what will bother him most is how his sluggish defence made Simon Murray look like Kenny Dalglish in his prime. The PSL’s new Scotsman wandered about in the box freely and the space he was afforded enabled his diving antics —which were excellent, granted—to win the spot kick. After bagging a brace in the first, the second half arguably would have seen a hat trick had he had the nous to slide the ball under Peter Leeuwenburgh’s legs after being played through.
The performance was anticlimatic for the larger-than-usual crowd that came to Cape Town Stadium to celebrate the weekend’s success.
“We’ve got to pick ourselves up from the tough game,” Jacobs said the next afternoon. “We put a training session together today and then tomorrow we’ve got a light session and then we travel …to Maritzburg.”
It’s a tough schedule but no one’s complaining. There’s no time to do so. If City don’t regroup in time for their visit to Baroka to achieve a second win of the season, the elation of cup success will rapidly dissipate.