Bucs out to pluck Birds

2010-10-02 00:00

MOROKA Swallows have been nothing but plucky on their path to tonight’s MTN8 final against Orlando Pirates at Moses Mabhida Stadium. Now the Birds will be hoping they don’t get plucked.

The match-up in the “original Soweto derby” pits together two contrasting opponents and makes for one of the more intriguing cup finals of recent years.

A big 55 000-strong crowd of mostly Bucs fans will arrive to watch what they will hope to be an inevitable procession to the trophy, to end a barren spell of seven years without silverware.

But not if wily German coach Rainer Zobel and his spirited and well organised Birds have anything to say about it.

Swallows, once a giant of South African football who could match their Soweto rivals in the stands and on the field, including in the famous last cup final the teams met in — Pirates’ 3-2 victory in the 1980 Mainstay Cup at Orlando Stadium — went into decline from the early 1990s.

A cup final victory over the old rival just might be the beginning of a beginning for the Dube Birds towards reclaiming some of their one-time glory.

“The goal was to reach the top eight last season not only to compete in the MTN, but because the competition serves as good preparation for the league,” Zobel said this week.

“We have reached the final and now we have one hand on the cup — maybe we can take a second one and raise it up.”

Swallows will need to show all their fighting spirit they have displayed early in this season if they are to achieve that aim.

A 2-2 draw in a league game against AmaZulu, clawing back from 2-0 down, and a 3-2 semi-final victory against more-fancied Ajax Cape Town in the MTN semi-finals, recovering from having blown a two-goal lead, have shown these Birds have bottle. The question is if they can replicate that in a pressure cup final against a Pirates team laden with star quality.

Bucs’ signings in the off-season were the most high-profile in the Premier Soccer League. After a slow start this has borne fruit with a cup final appearance for a team whose form was positively scratchy last season under Dutch legend Ruud Krol.

Their 2-1 aggregate semi-final victory against arch-enemy Kaizer Chiefs showed what a difference big signings can make.

Amakhosi have played some fancy football at the start of the season. But against Pirates it was a case of good coach, nice football, not enough star quality as the Bucs flexed the muscle gained from the acquisition of the likes of Daine Klate, Tlou Segolela and Mark Mayambela.

The signings have added to and invigorated stars from last season such as Dikgang Mabalane, Andile Jali and Moeneeb Josephs.

After a slow start to the season that seemed not to bode well for Krol, suddenly Bucs look like silverware material. Tonight will be the test of that.

In his third season in charge, Krol still has no trophies to show, having finished league runners-up and Telkom Knockout losing finalists in 2008/09 (to Ajax). A victory tonight could set the coach’s Buccaneers up for a healthy season. A defeat might engender a runners-up mentality.

Crucial to Birds destabilising Bucs in their task could be the availability of veteran and in-form striker Siyabonga Nomvete, who outstripped a much younger Ajax defence for two well-taken goals in the semi-final second leg. The KwaZulu-Natal-born forward had an operation to a dislocated right wrist on Tuesday.

Productive central midfielders Morgan Shivambu and Gareth Ncaca, 20-year-old left-back Keegan Ritchie, goalkeeper Aubrey Mathibe and promising forwards Sicelo Zuma and Augustin Leonard are other key performers who could stand in Bucs’ way.

Pirates may be the favourites as one of South African football’s oldest rivalries takes the field in a cup final setting, but Swallows will hardly consider themselves ripe for any form of plucking.

 

On TV

Tonight: kick-off 8.15 pm — live on SABC1, SuperSport 4 and SuperSport HD

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