Sundowns eye new threat

 

 

Pitso Mosimane’s affair with the self-fulfilling prophecy has shown no signs of abating. He called it before a ball was kicked: Sundowns would start slow, they would fall out of the MTN8 and the league favourites would be those who don’t have to contend with the stresses of continental football.

Clairvoyance comes easy to a manager who has made this yard his own in recent years: a mastermind who is finely attuned to the capabilities of his squad and has an educated estimation of everybody else’s.

In that context, you’d give more than a penny to hear his thoughts on the threat of Kaizer Chiefs. Does he view this latest challenge to his pre-eminence as legitimate?

In many ways, Mosimane’s counterpart Ernst Middendorp commands the antithesis of the Brazilians. A team with two chips on each shoulder, Amakhosi began the season with the single goal of establishing themselves as a top-tier team once more. As it’s unfurled they’ve given themselves a shout at being the top team.

There’s been no MTN8 to manage or the nuisance rounds of the Champions League to navigate. Nor has there been pressure burdening an unsure squad. Instead it has been one league win at a time — most of which have been dripping with pragmatism.

In their foreign imports, Chiefs have found players who bring a much-needed, no-nonsense approach to the team. Kearyn Baccus rarely wastes a pass and has demonstrated incredible range with his long balls. The target of which is usually Samir Nurkovic. The Serbian is averaging over seven aerial duels won a game — the most in the league — and has provided a focal point up front which his fellow forwards can play off of.

Often it’s been route-one football at its finest. Something that frustrated Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy so much that he slammed the Glamour Boys as the South African version of Burnley.

Again, it’s all contrary to the way Masandawana operate.

They made sure to remind us of that reality four days before the titanic kick-off. Heading for a draw against a stubborn Highlands Park at the Masterpieces on Wednesday night, Sundowns produced a goal that tattooed itself on our minds. The direct ball into Gastón Sirino; his subtle, almost non-existent flick; Themba Zwane’s one-touch pass; Mauricio Affonso’s first-time finish. There is simply no other team in the country capable of scoring a goal like that.

Daniel “Mambush” Mudau, a legend at the club now working behind the scenes, witnessed it himself.

“You give space to a player of Affonso’s calibre, he will punish you,” he says. “I think it’s a 150% performance from him so far. In the box when you get that kind of a player that can cool himself and pick a spot with power, you know that you have a good striker on your hands.”

Affonso looks to be the latest slick acquisition by Mosimane. He has now scored in each of the two competitive matches he’s been thrown into and is the newest in a glittering array of options available at Chloorkop. His Uruguayan compatriot Sirino, for one, is also gliding on confidence after securing a neat double in the 5-0 drubbing of AmaZulu last weekend. Yet another South American, José Alí Meza, also grabbed his first goal for the club in that Telkom Knockout game.

The abundance of attacking selections will give Mosimane just the type of selection dilemma he will relish ahead of such a big game.

And if the stakes aren’t enough to motivate his squad, the memory of their last encounter, a 4-2 humbling in the Shell Helix Cup, will.

“When I was chatting with the players, they would say: ‘Eish Mambush, you know, Kaizer Chiefs make us angry. They could have beaten us 4-0. We must make sure to make our supporters happy’.

“Chiefs is playing well and no one can take it away from them. They’ve done that the previous season but from there they collapsed. We are championship material. One can say that our players are confident, they know how to win and when they lose they know what to do the next day.”

Indeed that experience has given Masandawana the psychological edge over the competition during the past three years. But now they face a new threat: a team approaching almost a stereotypical level of German efficiency.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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